Net Neutrality: The Battle Lines Are Drawn

David ByrdWhile Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman, is working to find a solution for net neutrality that addresses the concerns of the courts, consumers, Internet service providers (ISPs) and application service providers, others are not trying to be as balanced or nuanced. President Obama has entered the discussion by requesting the reclassification of Internet broadband services as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Of course, once he takes a position, it makes it really clear where his opposition will stand. Senator Ted Cruz wasted little time weighing in with his opinion, referring to net neutrality as the Obamacare equivalent for the Internet. Both positions border on the ridiculous.

 It is impractical to reclassify broadband providers as utilities in order to address the issue of net neutrality, and net neutrality existed long before Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Cruz’s comments suppose that net neutrality is a new thing; it’s actually the existing policy of the Internet. Broadband providers have historically provided Internet access in a neutral fashion by treating services agnostically. Senator Al Franken got it right when he pointed out that net neutrality has not impeded investment or innovation with regard to the Internet and IP communications.

The FCC established the four principles for an open Internet in 2005:

  • Consumers deserve access to the lawful Internet content of their choice.
  • Consumers should run applications and use services subject to the needs of law enforcement.
  • Consumers should be able to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
  • Consumers deserve to choose their network, application, service and content providers.

These principles were reinforced by the FCC in 2009 when additional clarification was added requiring ISPs to provide their services transparently, without blocking or discriminating against legal content. The courts decided in favor of the ISPs that this was essentially regulating broadband providers which exceeded the authority of the FCC. However, it should be noted, no ISP states it wants to function by doing the opposite of the FCC order. Rather, the request is to maintain a certain level of autonomy where their ability to build, operate and manage their networks is not unnecessarily impeded.

Neither Obama nor Cruz is correct in their initial comments regarding the issue of net neutrality. Wheeler refers to the correct answer as splitting the baby. The question policy makers need to address is, “What are we fixing?” The Internet has been open since its inception and has proven that such openness is important for investment, innovation and the adoption of new services and applications. Decisions made over the next couple of years regarding net neutrality and the update of the 1996 Telecommunications Act will significantly influence the direction of the Internet and IP communications. No single person, political body or regulatory body will decide these issues, but disruptive rhetorical comments certainly do not help.

While the focus has been on consumers, we should note that applications such as VoIP and unified communications offered by ANPI are also in the mix. This is not just about streaming movies and gaming. It is about managing the consumption of broadband by anyone or any service.

David Byrd is chief marketing officer at ANPI and leads marketing programs for SMBs, enterprises and carriers. Prior to joining the company, Byrd was chief marketing officer and executive vice president of sales at Broadvox where he built a nationally recognized channel partner program and award-winning SIP product offering.

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