Tuesday, December 28, 2010

FCC Net Neutrality Order Rules - Transparency

I've held back writing about the new FCC order because I wanted some time to digest what it all means. With the holidays I have not had a lot of time to take a real good look. This post is my first attempt at explaining how the order will impact people like myself - the average consumer.

The 194 page Report and Order document approved by the FCC on 12/21/10 was released on 12/23/10. The Report and Order lays out three basic rules that, according to the FCC, are grounded in broadly accepted Internet norms, as well as FCC prior decisions. Here they are:

  1. Transparency. Fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of their broadband services;
  2. No blocking. Fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services; and
  3. No unreasonable discrimination. Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

I've written in the past about the FCC net neutrality -this new order is a compromise of a 2009 FCC proposal that was countered with a proposal from Google and Verizon. Technically it actually dates back to February 2004 when then FCC Chairman Michael Powell gave a speech titled Preserving Internet Freedom: Guiding Principles for the Industry where he laid out his vision of the broadband Internet and what he called the four Internet Freedoms in response to calls for some type of network neutrality.

In this post I'll look at just the transparency rule. Here's a quote pulled frowm page 88 of the Report and Order.

A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.
Sounds good right? Not so quick. Stacey over at Gigaom.com has put together a nice review titled Who Wins and Loses Under the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules. Here's a piece from her post:

  • The FCC doesn’t go as far as to establish a so-called Schumer Box for broadband which would disclose speeds or details in some type of consumer-friendly standardized language, but it does say an ISP must disclose on their websites and at the point of sale how it manages congestion on its network, the speeds it offers and what types of applications would work over those speed packages.
  • The FCC needs to explain how a user might trigger security restrictions, how the ISP inspects its traffic generally and how an aggrieved end user might address issues with the ISP.
  • An ISP must also show how its own VoIP or IPTV services affect how it delivers broader Internet traffic.
  • The FCC outsources the tracking of violations of these rules to consumers and engineers. It provides the enforcement, but isn’t going to hunt down the problems, it seems.
  • Since transparency is the foundation of this whole order, the lack of a standard framework that’s easily understood by end users is bad for consumers.
  • Outside applications and watchdog groups can fill in the gap and may find the task easier with these rules.

Overall Higginbotham says the transparency rule is good for carriers, because it’s minimally invasive in terms of how they market their services, yet poor for consumers, because it won’t help the average user much, and good for tech-savvy edge service providers who will have the information needed to build apps for certain networks.

I'll review the no blocking rule in my next post.

Happy Holidays!

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