The FCC, paid prioritization, and the Vulcan mind meld

I am digging deeper into the Federal Communications Commission’s rationale for its net neutrality order and quite frankly I am starting to feel like the character Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek series. Every now and then, Mr. Spock would engage in a mind meld with another being in order to read their thoughts. This usually involved placing his fingers on their heads and getting real close to them. “My mind to your mind” I believe was the phrase.

The problem with the mind meld was that for a very rational Mr. Spock, prolonged contact with an erratic or irrational mind could result in him being dragged down into the psychotic abyss of the other being, with Mr. Spock running the risk of totally losing his own sense of self. The trick was to break free at the last possible second. So as the music built up to a crescendo, Captain Kirk or Dr. McCoy would intervene and pull Mr. Spock away from his subject. Made for good TV, I admit.

Unfortunately the FCC did not break free from its mind meld with net neutrality supporters and this is not TV.

Specifically, the FCC’s rationale for its anti-paid prioritization stance is baseless. In its net neutrality report and order, the FCC states that broadband access providers have incentives to charge providers of edge services inefficient fees.

Edge service providers would be companies that sell online file storage services, video streaming, and access to applications online.

Too bad the FCC’s mind melding with groups like Free Press and Color of Change has led to a revisionist view of regulatory economics 101 and a contradiction of how the FCC views broadband.

The FCC states in the order that “[L]ike electricity and the computer, the Internet is a “general purpose technology.“ General purpose technology is just a fancy way of saying raw material. If that is the case, then why won’t the FCC follow the model of public utility commissions that regulate electric companies?

Electric companies are allowed to assess rates based on whether the user is residential, commercial, or industrial. If the FCC is going to regulate how a broadband provider handles its traffic, why not allow broadband access providers and edge services providers to enter paid prioritization agreements, setting in effect higher rates in exchange for the flow of greater traffic?

Instead of following a clear, true, and tried model of regulation that balances the reality of a monopoly or duopoly provider with the varying levels of end user needs, the FCC prefers to espouse an unfocused and irrational train of thought espoused by a small group of content providers with a limited and harmful agenda.

It’s time to break the mind meld.

Net neutrality order gives minorities more lip service

Posted December 28th, 2010 in African Americans, Broadband, FCC, Government Regulation, Internet, net neutrality and tagged , , by Alton Drew

Here is a line from the Federal Communications Commission’s recently released net neutrality report and order.

“We expect that open Internet protections will help close the digital divide by maintaining relatively low barriers to entry for underrepresented groups and allowing for the development of diverse content, applications, and services.”

Interesting. The FCC also said in this order that the rules are little different from the net neutrality principles currently in place. If that is the case, that these principles now codified in proposed rules are just a tad over the status quo, why should we believe that all of a sudden net neutrality is supposed to help close the digital divide? The divide has been gaping with these principles in place, meaning that they have not and probably will not contribute to greater broadband adoption by minority groups.

I’m not surprised by the FCC’s equivocal verbiage. After all, this is the same agency that has done next to nothing when it comes to monitoring the lack of employment opportunities in media for minorities and the dearth in access to capital by underrepresented groups.

The FCC needs to clear up its pay-for-prioritization rules

I think it’s safe to say I’m a bit confused about the Federal Communications Commission’s stance on paid prioritization. I realize that the FCC has been dead set against content providers paying access providers a toll to cruise in the faster data lane, but based on this order the FCC seems to be allowing prioritization for some and no prioritization for others.

For example, the FCC starts off discussing a lack of evidence that broadband access providers do not charge third-party providers for special treatment of traffic as it relates to the broadband provider’s subscribers. If that is the case, why do we have peering agreements between intermediary firms like Level-3 and broadband access providers?

What would happen if a third-party like a Level-3 could not have its increased traffic prioritized so that it could send me via AT&T my Netflix movies? How would such a prohibitive policy enhance innovation much less consumer choice?

Another issue I am not clear about is whether I, as an end user, would be able to pay to prioritize the traffic I receive? Right now it does not appear that the FCC wants to prohibit that. It would after all go 180 degrees against the FCC’s consumer choice mantra. But if I can prioritize what I receive, wouldn’t that require that a third-party be able to prioritize what it passes on to me from its content provider client?

Another issue not addressed by the FCC is where exactly on the network will prohibition against prioritization take place? Will prioritization be prohibited on the backbone? Will prioritization be prohibited between the interface on my apartment building and a node on the corner of the street?

Seems to me that a continuous flow of digital commerce requires that if paid prioritization is allowed, it should be allowed throughout the backbone and the last mile. It should be allowed for residential end users like me and content developers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

The FCC has started off on the right foot, but it should be mindful to continue down its path with clear vision on paid prioritization.

Distance learning and the eve of net neutrality

Posted December 20th, 2010 in Broadband, FCC, Government Regulation, Internet, net neutrality and tagged , by Alton Drew

This is in response to Ava L. Parker’s piece, “Distance learning is the future but for everyone

Ms. Parker raises very valid arguments on the benefits and demand for distance learning. Having taught online, I can attest to how taking courses via distance learning helps to alleviate the pressures faced by students balancing the pursuit of a degree with home and work life.

The growth in online courses is not only evidence of the benefits perceived by students and college administrators, but also testament of the ready availability of the networks and technology necessary for delivering broadband to students in their homes.

All the more reason why Ms. Parker’s point about the digital divide should not be overlooked. The benefits of distance learning should be spread to all those willing and able to pay for access to broadband services.

To help bring down the costs of access, federal, state, and local government regulators should refrain from onerous regulatory requirements including additional and unnecessary franchise requirements and open network statutes and rules. These additional regulatory burdens will be passed on to students and their households in the form of higher prices thus barring students with limited means from taking advantage of distance learning.

It was the night before the open meeting and all through the house ….

Posted December 20th, 2010 in Broadband, FCC, Government Regulation, Internet, net neutrality and tagged , , by Alton Drew

With less than twenty hours to go before the Federal Communications Commission presents its rules on net neutrality, Free Press is promising a full court press on what it terms as FCC chairman Julius Genachowski’s less than real net neutrality rules.

Free Press has declared a fight to the finish, promising its 2 million or more disciples that it won’t give up on securing a consumer’s “right to an Internet without gatekeepers.”

That quote alone forces me to question how much the Free Press posse understands the basic engineering and economics of any communications network. These networks are littered with gateways, routers, and servers, each serving various roles, but all involved in regulating the transmission of the packetted traffic. The traffic may take any number of routes to get to its destination, but it’s the reading of the packets that helps the network determine the best directions by which to transport it.

Like President Obama’s tax cut package, everyone didn’t get what they wanted. I would like the status quo to remain the way it is with not nary a mention of the open network in any FCC rules much less statutes.

Congress gave us a gift a decade ago when it expressed no interest in regulating an industry so young and full of promise. The Internet is meeting that promise and paying huge dividends. This is no time for regifting.