My October, 2010 Missoulian InBusinessMonthly column
There’s already a casualty of the November midterm elections, and it’s called Net Neutrality. Some issues on Net Neutrality were scheduled to be decided by the Federal Communications Commission last month. But that’s been put off until January at the earliest, because the FCC changed course and decided to keep the public comment period open for another few months. House Democrats shelve net neutrality proposal.
The FCC decision was due to both midterm politics and being pre-empted by an agreement between two of the very corporations it would regulate, Google and Verizon.
What is Net Neutrality? It’s the idea that all network operators and owners treat all Internet network traffic equally, without a bias toward or against one type of traffic – like video streaming or mobile Internet access – that uses more or less bandwidth and may be more or less expensive to transport over a network. Network neutrality – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
The network operators are big telephone companies and Internet service providers that have built much of the Internet backbone as part of their for-profit businesses.
Federal regulations would help ensure that the Telcos and ISPs act neutrally when it comes to Internet traffic, and treat all traffic and all companies equally with respect to bandwidth and access to the networks that make up the Internet as a whole.
The idea of Net Neutrality has been around since the beginnings of the Internet, when the early pioneers felt there was an obligation to keep the Internet as open and accessible as possible.
But many corporations that own the backbone of the Internet now disagree, as they have sunk millions of dollars into the infrastructure that startups and other small companies need access to, and they want to make money on it and say they need room to innovate and expand and compete. And federal regulations can prevent that, they say.
An early Net Neutrality disagreement took place in 2008, when the large ISP Comcast was found to be blocking or severely delaying what are called BitTorrent uploads on their network, as they were a higher percentage of traffic than other users and were, in some cases, illegal downloads of music and movies. Comcast – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Comcast lost at the time, but early this year an appeals court said that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to regulate ISPs like Comcast, and overturned that decision. Court rules for Comcast over FCC in ‘net neutrality’ case.
And that opened up the opportunity for the next development this year. Google and Verizon came to an agreement that equal access to the Internet shouldn’t apply to mobile phones and wireless networks.
That means Google could strike a deal with Verizon and other backbone owners to get faster access to its own sites over their competitors.
That had many saying Google sold out, and its “do no evil” mantra of fairness went out the window for profits and control. Google lobbied for overall Net Neutrality as recently as 2007, but not anymore.
Some parts of the Google-Verizon deal look good for Net Neutrality: There is a requirement for transparency about network management and access among the ISPs and Telcos.
The Google and Verizon deal seems to hinge on the fact that they are business partners with Google’s mobile phone Android, but that’s been denied by both companies. The Washington Post – Eric Schmidt and Ivan Seidenberg – From Google and Verizon, a path to an open Internet.
As a result, some commentators say the FCC won’t be able to gain the upper hand in Net Neutrality regulations after this fall, especially if the political landscape changes in the November elections.
If the atmosphere in Congress turns to less federal regulation, the FCC might not be able to persuade Congress for new laws to prevent private companies taking control of Net Neutrality.