Uncommon Wisdom

Feb 4 2009   1:29PM GMT

FCC could enter cable bandwidth management fray

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

Comcast has, as we had predicted, asserted to the FCC that its voice service is not carried over the Internet or Internet access infrastructure, and is therefore neither subject to their traffic management policies nor to the FCC’s four principles of net neutrality.

They’re right, of course. Cable, or PacketCable specifically, divides the data path, and broadband Internet and Comcast VoIP do not share capacity. The question now is whether the FCC will decide that it doesn’t matter whether the stuff is separate or not. We think such a decision would be the regulatory equivalent of junk science: It would imply that common carriage on any facility imposed the regulatory burdens of the most regulated service on all services.

These are not logical times, however, and regulations are never logical. The biggest risk here is that the FCC would do something that would overturn the original 2005 decision that broadband was not a “telecommunications service” and thus was not subject to unbundling provisions of the Telecom Act. That was a highly speculative ruling that stood largely because the RBOCs bought AT&T and MCI, who were bankrolling opposition.

Vuze, the online video company, has also asked the FCC to look into the Cox plan for bandwidth management. This shows that cable company needs to control bandwidth use, primarily uplink bandwidth for P2P, but also streaming bandwidth will be increasingly colliding with the over-the-top (OTT) players’ desires to pump content at no incremental cost. The shared-media nature of the cable plant is the industry’s biggest risk, as DOCSIS 3.0 is the biggest asset, and moving to DOCSIS 3.0 is useful only if content doesn’t just expand to fill the new pipe too.

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