By Greg Mills
The FCC is preparing to make rules for what is called "Net Neutrality." This is important to those of us who use the Internet and particularly those who might want to innovate in new services related to broadband, like Apple.
There will likely be a vote today, and it is expected the FCC will move to ban wired broadband Internet providers from blocking or slowing down traffic they don't like. The notion is to make wired broadband unrestricted by ISPs to the benefit of streaming services.
Ironically, despite a lot of concern about what the FCC does in this area, a recent Federal Court ruling raises issues as to the jurisdiction of the FCC to make rules concerning broadband Internet, in the first place. This will play out in the courts and the Congress. As we have seen Apple launch into a number of download services over the last few years, with more on the way, the openness of the Internet will become more and more important to the company.
If you happen to get your broadband internet service from a cable TV company, as I do, it is only common sense to expect that TimeWarner Cable would prefer that I buy TV service from them. I get my bare broadband service from them, but I am buying movie streaming service from NetFlix.
NetFlix is coming in to our home over TimeWarner's cable. Should they be able to selectively slow down or stop NetFlix movies to make that service unusable? That is the basic notion; in other words, that providing Internet service should be "neutral." NetFlix is the greatest broadband hog around, consuming up to 20% of the bandwidth in some places so that is a sore subject for cable Internet service providers. Never mind; I pay for "unlimited" service.
The tangled web gets even more twisted when you consider the partisan politics of the pending regulations, the changes in the House of Representatives coming due to the recent elections and the deep pockets that will be directly affected by the new rules. Apple, AT&T, Verizon, Google, NetFlix and a lot of other big names are deeply concerned, as their Internet business plans to deliver digital content are directly at issue.
The "fixed" broadband industry is being treated differently than the mobile Internet providers in the rules being voted on soon. Fixed Internet service providers (as to home or to a building such as cable modem service) are being forced by the new rules to offer a "dumb pipe" sort of service with little or no control over what customers do with that broadband connection that is wired in.
You pay for a certain class of service, which dictates the amount of data and the speed you are entitled to, and you can do what ever you like -- as a business providing digital data or as consumer downloading data under the new rules. The big idea is to let ISPs sell Internet services, but have no control over how that data pipeline is used.
Mobile providers, where the connection comes over the airwaves, will have more control over the applications and web content they deliver as the rules are now written. They claim more control over their networks is needed to provide good service to their customers, but there is also an element of wanting to sell certain services without any competition. Why allow texting apps using the Internet as an open pipe when you can block texting apps that do that for free and sell your own text service at outrageous prices?
AT&T and Verizon are struggling to keep up with mobile broadband demand and also working on paying for building out both the 3G and 4G networks. That costs billions of dollars and they have to raise the money somehow. Mobile broadband is certainly in the purview of the FCC since it is transmitted over the air. Radio spectrum is being bought and sold to expand mobile broadband service since the demand is insatiable. Thank Apple for that. The iPhone, iPad and Google's Android have become both the greatest dream and worst nightmare of the cell phone industry. Just ask AT&T.
Along with government-ordained monopolies granted to use public airways comes rules to prevent monopolistic behavior. What Uncle Sam giveth, Uncle Sam can sure take away. The administration is working to expand broadband to include fast service about everywhere, and the stakes couldn't be higher.
Apple is likely to continue to be the big player in Internet streaming and has a lot of responsibility to keep things on an even keel without stifling rules. Recently Apple pulled the Wikileaks app, and some are crying foul over that. The press squeals loudly over virtually everything Apple does anyway. Abuse is often in the eye of the beholder and claiming that Apple wants to rule the Internet universe because they trashed an app that is so controversial is sheer nonsense.
Tim Wu actually coined the term "Net Neutrality." Columbia law professor Wu has written that: "Steve Jobs has the charisma, vision and instincts of every great emperor. The man who created the personal computer 40 years ago is probably the leading candidate to help exterminate it. His vision has an undeniable appeal, but he wants too much control."
It has been said the very best possible government is that of a benign dictator. I think with few actual issues that are debatable, the rapid growth of the Apple App Store infrastructure has been done in a responsible and well ordered manor. Time will tell as things unfold. So far I am not worried, just a little bummed that I could have purchased Apple stock at $18 back just a few years ago.
That's Greg's bite for today.
(Greg Mills, is a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup, www.CottageIndustrySolar.com using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's art web site at www.gregmills.info ; His email is firstname.lastname@example.org )