FCC Brings a Bit of Sense to the Network Neutrality Debate
US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to mandate ‘network neutrality’.
While it has no power here in the UK, its approach will probably influence decision-makers here.
Defining Net Neutrality
There are many different definitions of Network Neutrality. A simple definition would be that ‘a network must be a passive conduit of traffic.’
In other words:
- A network should not block any traffic, or types of traffic.
- It should not block any sites.
- It should not prioritise Internet traffic.
- It should have no restrictions on the end-user equipment that can be connected to the network.
- It should not prioritise traffic generated by its owners’ own services in preference to general Internet traffic which it carries.
Why Simple Network Neutrality is Nuts
This simple approach to Network Neutrality would be crazy:
- ISPs would not be allowed to block denial-of-service attacks (that’s blocking traffic, which is verboten)
- ISPs would not be allowed to block access to illegal web sites full of child porn (that’s blocking sites)
- ISPs would not be allowed to offer web-filtering to Primary Schools (that’s blocking sites, which is not allowed, even if that’s what the customer wants)
- ISPs would not be allowed to give phone calls priority over P2P internet traffic (your call has been dropped, because someone needed the backhaul bandwidth to download this week’s episode of Glee)
- ISPs would not be allowed to stop customers from attaching untested, unreliable equipment that would interfere with the network and harm other customers internet experience (network neutrality calls for a free-for-all in connected devices)
The FCC Hasn’t Gone Down That Path
The FCC has been talking to interested parties and has inserted several sensible caveats to the network neutrality requirement:
- “Reasonable network management” will be allowed e.g. to ensure network security and to block harmful traffic
- It only applies to legal content. There’s no protection for illegal traffic.
- Traffic prioritisation is allowed, in many cases, if it’s aimed at “reducing or mitigating the effects of congestion on the network’
- Customer-initiated content filtering will be allowed.
But the FCC Made a Very Controversial Decision That Could Prove Damaging
The FCC has decided to ban ISPs from offering ‘pay for priority’ services.
To see why this could be damaging, see my next article.