Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued new rules on net neutrality that are due to go into effect before the summer and will reclassify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been making regular trips to Washington D.C. to testify before Congress on the new rules, including one just yesterday, and today the participants of OFC were treated to a special session devoted to the societal, business, and technical impact of net neutrality.
Net neutrality, broadly speaking, is the idea that packets of data should be treated equally in terms of which gets prioritization. In the session, Scott Jordan, the FCC's chief technologist and a professor at UC Irvine explored these new rules in detail -- what they include and what they do not.
"You will often have heard in this discussion a claim that this is 'regulating the Internet' -- it is not," Jordan said. "It is regulating broadband Internet access service."
Under the new rules, broadband service providers are basically forbidden from blocking lawful content, impairing or degrading the streaming of that content (a practice known as "throttling") or payments from content providers for prioritized streaming. Announced earlier this month, the new rules will take effect 60 days after they are put into the federal register.
"It will be within the next few months," Jordan said.
A Proponent's Perspective on Net Neutrality
That may not be the end of the story, of course. There are already legal challenges in the courts and many more may follow. One of the two organizers of the session said that they tried to find speakers from among service providers who would come out and speak up against net neutrality, but they declined.
That left their position to be summed up by Kurt Opsahl, the deputy general council of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which bills itself as the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to defending rights online and is itself a strong supporter of the new rules. He said that net neutrality opponents largely fear the rules are a threat to innovation because they amount to federal regulation of the Internet, which has traditionally been largely unregulated (and wildly successful).
Interestingly, net neutrality supporters like EFF sometimes use the same argument in favor of the rules. Opsahl points to Friendster, which innovated social networking but was eventually supplanted by the more popular MySpace. Then Facebook came along and became the dominant social networking site. Later Twitter emerged and carved out a portion of the social media sphere for itself.
"In each case, the newcomer was relatively small but was able to successfully compete with the established player," Opsahl said. "But if you had a world in which an established player, having billions of dollars at its disposal, could make it so only its social network would run at an acceptable speed... then they could effectively make it overly challenging if not impossible for someone to come in and be an effective competitor."
In his presentation, Opsahl gave a history of the new rules and highlighted the public's involvement. It erupted after the agency opened up a public comment period in June of 2014. Some 3.7 million public comments poured in -- the most ever during an FCC comment period. He said that less than one percent of those people were against net neutrality, and that it was this grassroots effort that ultimately pushed the FCC down its current path.
"We considered this to be a win for the Internet," Opsahl said.
Posted: 26 March 2015 by
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