Towards the Telecommunications/Broadband Act of 2018

By Doug Mohney February 07, 2014

Verizon's net neutrality "win" in the U.S. Court of Appeals last month may have been the worst thing to happen to the company and Tier 1 providers in general.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is looking to revise and or rewrite its current rules, but the ruling may provide an open invite to Congressional intervention and stronger regulation.  Pandora's box may be opening for all involved.

The last major overhaul of U.S. telecommunications law was back in 1996.  A number of issues, such as intercarrier compensation, are antiquated today in an age where flat rate long distance plans are the norm and physical distance for calls just doesn't matter.  Cellular service was barely out of the cradle, voice over IP didn't really get rolling until 1997, and the Internet boom and had just started.

One of the meta issues facing a rewrite of telecommunications law is the transition away from legacy hardware and services to an all IP network.  Clear lines between cable and broadband services have blurred with the emergence of over-the-top services.  From a functional standpoint, the only fundamental differences between cable and telco broadband portfolios are in technology along the last mile (cable using co-ax or fiber, while telco has DSL or fiber).

At a corporate level and organization level, cable and telco have some differences.  Cable has more content while the Tier 1 phone companies operate nationwide cellular networks.   Tier 1 carriers have a more regional and national outlook due to their large geographic footprints, while cable is more local.  The local vs. regional outlook affects how the two industries approach the business market.  Cable does well in the SMB space while Tier 1 telcos continue to build upon their legacy of enterprise work.

In principle, allowing carriers to charge more for "fast line" services makes sense.  Amazon, Netflix and other streaming players can pay for guaranteed premium quality of service for content delivery.  Where life gets ugly is when existing broadband service delivery is downgraded to affect delivery so content providers -- and ultimately the consumer -- have to pay more just to get things delivered to the quality they would expect. 

What is the minimum level of quality of service any content provider should expect today without buying "fast lane" provisions? Does provisioning "fast lane" services significantly impact those who don't pay for the fast lane? In other words, will everyone's content delivery get slower?

The other point to ponder beyond minimum/fast lane/degraded service delivery issues is the utter stagnation of U.S. carriers to offer advanced services.  Overseas, HD voice is well advanced while here only T-Mobile has managed to provide a clear story and deployment.  Voice biometrics and RCS have also made clear starts in Europe while carriers here twiddle their thumbs.

Lawmakers may wish to consider linking the ability to offer priority to content delivery services to a requirement for network providers to continue to increase broadband speeds.  Cable has outline its path to gigabit-and-faster home speeds.  Tier 1 phone providers only seem to discover the ability to offer consumer gigabit speeds when Google Fiber shows up in town, since otherwise "nobody really needs it."

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing Editor

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