FCC encourages public input on mobile as net neutrality discussion moves forward
By Chantal Tode
May 19, 2014
Mobile's role in online content consumption is growing
While the Federal Communications Commissions moves on net neutrality last week have little if any immediate impact on mobile, they do open the door to possible implications down the road.
Last week, the FCC voted to open up for public debate its rules meant to guarantee an open Internet but also allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. While the rules would not apply to mobile, the agency is also encouraging the public to weigh in on mobile and net neutrality, indicating the topic is on regulators minds.
Mobile is not on the table at this point, it has generally been 'exempted' from the discussion and rule-making, said Rich Karpinski, senior analyst at Yankee Group, Boston. Rightfully so, since up to now mobile operators have needed more flexibility in network management given the more limited speeds available and the very aggressive 'pinging" of the network that some mobile apps do.
But, the FCC in its order said it would encourage public comment on mobile and net neutrality. Very interesting, we'll have to see where that goes," he said.
The FCC is in a really tough spot dealing with just what's on its plate to try to pull mobile into the equation right now. There is also more competition in mobile, and the FCC would like to keep it that way with its public statements about a T-Mobile and Sprint combo, so arguably competitive forces could help enforce non-discrimination in mobile in ways it can't in fixed where there are sometimes only one or at most two broadband carriers in a market.
In opening up the discussion about mobile and net neutrality, the FCC order addressed the significant changes that have taken place in the mobile marketplace since 2010, pointing to how mobile providers manage their networks, the increased use of Wi-Fi and the growing use of mobile devices and applications.
The agency is specifically seeking public comment on whether the no-blocking rule should continue to distinguish between fixed and mobile broadband.
Other questions the agency is looking to address include whether mobile networks should be subject to the same totality-of-the-circumstances test as fixed broadband and how the definition of fixed and mobile services should be applied to a fixed broadband providers commercially deployed Wi-Fi service that is made available to its fixed broadband customers?
The issues related to online content delivery being raised by the growth in mobile do not stop there.
The agency is also looking for input on how to treat mobile services that are deployed and/or marketed as substitutes for traditional telecommunications or broadband services.
One of the most contentious elements of the FCCs proposal is the idea of fast and slow lanes.
I think the idea of Internet slow lanes and fast lanes is a tremendous political/PR phrasing but doesn't reflect the likely technical realities, Mr. Karpinski said. It's simply hyperbole for the sake of winning a political argument. The reality is more complex.
In many cases consumers would benefit from traffic prioritization, he said. Technically-speaking, a dumbed-down, best-effort Internet is a step backward, not forward. And large content providers already have advantages, such as being able to afford access to a content delivery network or to build a dedicated data center, that mom-and-pops and startups can't match.
This is a debate that could use a bit more nuance and less bluster. That said, when large corporations with profit motive above-all are involved, regulatory oversight is absolutely necessary. The arguments just aren't so black and white, fast and slow.
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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