What you lost in FCC's net neutrality ruling

Carriers got the right to throttle; you lost the right to pay more to avoid it

The new Internet traffic rules the FCC announced yesterday include two that each sound fair on their own. Combined, they give carriers and ISPs the ability to throttle traffic they don't want on their networks and remove the ability of business or consumers to pay extra to get the performance they need.

The "no unreasonable discrimination" rule requires that carriers and ISPs not completely block traffic from any legal source, or even "unreasonably discriminate" in transmitting those packets across their networks, except for "reasonable network management."

Sounds good, except this is the FCC's definition of "reasonable:"

Legitimate network management purposes include: ensuring network security and integrity, including by addressing traffic that is harmful to the network; addressing traffic that is unwanted by users (including by premise operators), such as by providing services or capabilities consistent with a user's choices regarding parental controls or security capabilities; and by reducing or mitigating the effects of congestion on the network.

That caveat gives carriers and ISPs free rein to discriminate exactly as much as they want and favor whatever traffic they -- not you -- prefer.

FCC rules would allow carriers to:

  • limit how many Netflix movies you can stream to your house;
  • limit how much interoffice video you can run;
  • throttle the bandwidth and quality of your VoIP systems during heavy traffic periods;
  • reduce your ability to use video, audio or applications on Web sites aimed at customers;
  • limit the responsiveness and functional speed of SAAS or cloud-based applications that require a lot of bandwidth and are not tolerant of jitter or latency.

The normal solution would be for providers of video, SAAS, cloud and other resource-intensive networked service to pay extra to make sure their apps performed up to spec.

Businesses and consumers would pay more -- which is also a big problem -- but at least it would be possible to get the performance they need.

Pay for priority creates discrimination and violates the tradition of Internet backbone and edge-network providers allowing all types of traffic at no extra cost based on type, the FCC argues.

It would also hurt consumers and businesses who couldn't pay for priority access and restrict innovation by raising costs on Web-based companies that might not have the cash for it either.

So the answer is to allow carriers and ISPs to do what they want and not let content providers or customers pay to get what they want?

How does this differ from a few weeks ago?

Well, before there were no federal rules about this. Now there are. The FCC has spoken.

"Keep everything the way it is, and we'll promise to 'monitor' all the abuses for anti-competitive behavior," the FCC has said. "But take away that last bit of control people might have over their own Internet use. And, by the way, leave the wireless Web completely unregulated so pretty soon people will be so mad about how badly they're being mauled there that they'll forget all about that whole 'net neutrality' thing. "

"Committee adjourned. Let's head over to the carrier holiday party. They bought out the Smithsonian and are giving away exhibits as prizes for 'Pin the Target on the Customer.' Should be a blast."

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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