Uncommon Wisdom

Oct 23 2009   1:56PM GMT

FCC includes pivotal issue in Net Neutrality NPRM

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

The FCC isn’t “considering” net neutrality rules as a formal order; they’re “proposing” specific actions. That’s the meaning of what happened yesterday at the public meeting. The FCC approved its net neutrality Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) by unanimous vote, but Republicans dissented in part, just enough to keep alive the partisan bickering that’s characterized Washington and to reflect their concern with some of the points.

If you look at the document closely, you find it really consists of four parts. One codifies the original principles of net neutrality that were published in 2005. The second requires that providers treat lawful traffic in a non-discriminatory way and publish any traffic management policies. Both these sections (which are subdivided further in the NPRM) are largely accepted by all. The third element asserts the FCC’s position that these principles be applied across access types, meaning wireline telco, cable, and wireless. This raises some ire in the industry, and also with some Republicans.

The final point, in our view this is the most controversial, asks for comment on the specialized services that are IP-delivered and share the broadband pipe with the Internet. The FCC wants to know how to define these and what rules (including the six defined in the first and second parts we’ve outlined) should apply to these special services.

This last issue is pivotal because should the FCC decide these services are also to be regulated in some way, they could impose access-sharing requirements on telco IPTV offerings. We think it will be months before any order comes out of this process, but just the fact that the FCC is thinking about the third and fourth issues here could force operators to consider what would happen to their mobile and wireline walled-garden services if access connections had to be wholesaled to competitors at a fair price.

Regulatory issues are never covered well in the media, and the public interest in this one will likely make it worse. Make no mistake; the key to the future is in the single issue of those managed or special services!

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