Friday, February 27, 2015

FCC net neutrality decision is all about traffic

Posted By on Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 1:04 PM

The Federal Communications Commission passed new net neutrality regulations yesterday that includes a measure that would classify broadband Internet as a utility, just like landline telephones.

The regulations say that Internet service providers can't prioritize one stream of traffic over another. They can't provide "fast lanes" where a content provider pays the ISP for a faster pipeline for their mutual customers. Traffic from specific sites or services cannot be blocked, and network speeds can't be throttled for heavy users.

But it's the condition that broadband will be classified as a common carrier telecommunications utility, instead of an information service, that creates many questions. The most basic one: what the heck does that mean? And it takes some digging to get clear answers, or at least ones that are understandable to laypeople like myself.

The bans on prioritizing and blocking traffic are part of the common carrier status. And with telephone companies, the designation includes requirements that the companies offer universal service in their territories; it also subjects service prices to FCC scrutiny.

Broadband pricing is actually a major issue when it comes to access. In poorer city neighborhoods, homes can get cable connections, but even the cheapest plans can cost more than struggling individuals or families can afford. And the New York Times reports that the FCC won't get involved in pricing decisions or have a role in the companies' engineering decisions for managing their networks.

Net neutrality is an issue that won't going away any time soon; it's likely that the big cable and mobile Internet providers will take the FCC to court over the decision. Congress, too, could intervene, but Republicans are divided on how to tamp down the FCC regulations and President Barack Obama would probably veto any legislation they send to him.

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