Are 'Struck Down' Net Neutrality Laws Good or Bad?

By Ed Weinberg January 17, 2014

Phil Edholm recently wrote an article titled, “The Impact of Net Neutrality Ruling on WebRTC,” where he suggests that it will have a negative effect on new services, such as WebRTC (an open source project to enable the web with real time communication), and other services that compete with your ISP. Just because your ISP is not required to treat all traffic over the Internet connection equally, does not mean it won't.

The U.S. Appeals Court struck down the 2011 FCC rules that all Internet traffic must be treated equally by Internet service providers.  Verizon challenged the regulations since Congress did not give the FCC authority to regulate the Internet. There have been eight bill introduced in Congress between 2006 and 2012 involving net neutrality, and the only one that passed had the net neutrality provision removed from the bill. The FCC seized that power, and, as of today, the court has put the FCC in it's place.

Creating a net neutrality law is not trivial. ISPs regularly treat some traffic differently than others. A good example is “spam”. If your ISP filters spam from email, are they treating that data differently? Will the ISP be violating the net neutrality law? Can it be brought up on civil or criminal charges?

A fear from this ruling is that it will lead to, “tiered service” for specific types of traffic. In tiered service, the consumer or business pays extra for better service. We have tiered service today. I pay an extra $10.00 to my cable company, and they give me faster service. You probably have that option from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), too. If you are a business, you have multiple options of DSL speed, fractional or full T1s and T3s, etc. You also have the option of a “Service Level Agreement” (SLA), where your ISP can guarantee you some number of “9s” of uptime (your service is up 99.999 percent of the time) and of various data latencies. Of course you pay extra for the better tiers, and if the Internet goes down, those higher paying customers with an SLA are going to be fixed first.

Likewise, if you have a website, the ISP that hosts your site could limit your speed or your volume. ISPs regularly enter in to agreements to “peer” (I will handle your traffic if you handle mine) if their traffic is fairly symmetrical, or an ISP might pay for “transit” to connect to their other networks or other parts of the country, or even to host a site on their network to decrease speed and latency for the ISP's customers.

What some in the industry believe is that an ISP will intentionally block or degrade (they call it “traffic shaping”) certain services, like WebRTC, that compete with products from the ISP. So far, this has been a non-problem, and what history shows us is that if it is even suspected that an ISP is not treating all services equally, there will be industry and media attention, and calls for Congressional action. And ISPs don't want Congressional action.




Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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