Thursday, November 13, 2014

Obama v FCC Stand Off On Net Neutrality

In the past we have been all in favor of net neutrality and then against it. Now, it seems that this dichotomy has hit the US internet industry in response to the President throwing his hat into the ring on the side of treating internet provision as an utility that should be equally available to everyone.

Lining up behind him are those companies that piggy back the existing infrastructure, making little of no investment in getting their data to end users, the likes of Facebook, Netflix and Google.

Carriers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon are keen to be able to charge differentiated prices for carriage, basically to make more money from the massive investments they have made in infrastructure to take bits and bytes to the end user.

However, the DMCA, passed early this century, enshrines that all carriage should be equivalent: this principle has been widely adopted in most democratic countries.

The organization entrusted with policing this is the FCC and they have become combative in response to Obama's position, reiterating their independence (a cynic would say that the President is a lame duck and the FCC has one eye on currying favor with the next administration).

So, what is best for the end user ?

Well, the crux of the matter is who will invest in improved broadband, where coverage remains incredibly patchy despite the ever sanguine analysis of governments. A reliable 10Mbps connection is a rarity in both the US and UK outside of major conurbations. And if the internet is a utility then it needs to be afforded the same availability as water and electricity, and not gas, which it currently resembles.

The arguments we recently made against net neutrality is that it prevents anyone other than ISPs from investing in last mile delivery. It's no secret that the likes of Facebook and Google have long been looking at everything from balloons to low level satellites to offer their own services. And you can bet your bottom dollar that these would be free but would subtly favor their own services, thus in great irony, the advocates of net neutrality break it (and if you doubt this, look at how Google has biased ad delivery and search results in its favor).

This is an important issue and is a mire of vested interests, both political and economic. Unfortunately, little is likely to improve for citizens of rural America (or Britain) as a result.