The Federal Communications Commission has voted in favor of a preliminary proposal to allow both “best effort” and “quality assured” Internet access services for consumers. But the proposal also is tentative, as the FCC also asked for public comment on whether the proposal should be changed before actual rules are adopted, perhaps later in 2014.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is part of the FCC’s effort to craft new "network neutrality" rules that will withstand court challenge.
Opponents often talk about the specific FCC approach as creating “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for consumer Internet apps. That does not mean the new rules in any way permit blocking of apps. That would continue to be prohibited, as under current FCC rules.
The issue is whether content delivery techniques, routinely used in the backbone of the Internet, can be extended all the way to end user locations, not simply across the backbone to “edge” locations.
Opponents of the content delivery network approach argue it will lead to a two-tier Internet that favors application providers with more money. That might be true, but is no less true of today’s situation, where some app providers buy content delivery network services, and others do not.
Nor are relative financial, engineering, marketing or operational advantages between firms any less “unequal” in all other markets.
But the fact remains that some applications are highly sensitive to packet delay (voice and video), which is why app providers routinely use CDNS across the backbone of the network.
The FCC’s proposal would allow ISPs to create, in addition to best effort access, as at present, CDN services that provide the same latency-controlling benefits as do CDNs operating across the backbone of the network.
In order to prevent unfair business practices, the FCC proposal likely would require that any such quality-enhancing features be made available to all app providers, and not restricted only to the ISP’s own apps and services.
But the FCC also has said it is keeping open the more-drastic option of reclassifying Internet access as a common carrier service.
Now begins a lengthy process of public comment and advocacy by Internet ecosystem participants, as well as a quite, behind the scenes effort to find some workable common ground between the imposition of common carrier regulation and no rules about content blocking; with some new ability to create quality-enhancing features of consumer Internet access services.
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