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9:00pm November 23, 2010

Speculation Surrounds Impact of FCC’s Next Meeting

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Analysts are speculating that the Federal Communications Commission may vote on reclassifying broadband Internet access as a telephone service before the end of the year, opening the door to conflict with a newly minted 112th Congress or a legal battle with the broadband access industry.

The last two open meetings are scheduled for November 30 and December 15.

What may be at issue is whether broadband Internet access will be treated like telephone service, requiring that certain rules addressing non-discriminatory treatment of telephone calls also be applied to traffic sent across a broadband provider’s network.

Proponents of applying net neutrality rules and reclassification of broadband, namely small content providers and grassroots consumer advocates, have made the argument that transparency about how broadband service providers manage their networks will ensure that large providers such as Comcast and Verizon transmit small content provider traffic at the same rate of speed as Facebook or Google’s traffic.

Opponents of net neutrality and reclassification argue that principles of nondiscriminatory treatment of traffic are currently being applied without burdensome regulations. Adding new regulations means that the additional costs will be passed on to consumers, thus having a dampening effect on demand.

In addition, wireless carriers, such as MetroPCS, believe that net neutrality should not be applied to wireless carriers. Requiring nondiscriminatory treatment of traffic carried over wireless facilities may not be feasible for wireless networks given they have less capacity to carry large amounts of traffic as opposed to wire line carriers.

If the MetroPCS argument is valid, there may be an immediate, negative impact on minority consumers. A disproportionate number of African American consumers access the Internet via wireless devices as opposed to white consumers. According to the Pew Research Council, 87% of all minorities use a cell phone compared to 80% of whites. Sixty-four percent of African Americans use some form of wireless access to the Internet versus 59% of all adults.

While no one knows for sure whether an item on net neutrality or broadband reclassification will appear on the agenda of the next meeting, activity at the FCC in the last four days may indicate that some decision is imminent. For example, net neutrality proponents Free Press and the Media Access Project and net neutrality opponents AT&T and MetroPCS, met with staff of the FCC between November 18 and 23 to discuss reclassification and net neutrality.



About the Author

Alton Drew
Alton Drew provides advocacy, legal and legislative analysis, and legislative monitoring services for not-for-profit associations and foundations with a particular emphasis on broadband adoption, spectrum, and local community development. Using various social media platforms, Mr. Drew amplifies messages for not-for-profit associations and foundations as part of their online media campaigns. Follow him on Twitter @altondrew; Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/alton.drew.5; or visit him at www.lawandpoliticsofbroadband.com or www.lawandpoliticsofcapital.com.




 
 

 
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3 Comments


  1. Wm_Tucker

    If we were to combine Pew's numbers on wireless broadband usage with those from MNOs like AT&T and Verizon, the majority of wireless Internet consumers use less than 200 Mbytes/month. I would think that metered data plans like AT&T now uses (and would be allowable under the 'non-discrimination' requirement) would keep wireless broadband affordable for those consumers. Of course, such plans should be transparent and have the flexibility to adjust to market demand.


    • JenebaSpeaks

      William, unlike wireline, wireless spectrum is limited. If network neutrality was applied to it, I foresee significant slow down in wireless broadband. They need to work out the technical details. Metered plan or no metered plan, the world is not ready for this one, in my humble opinion.


      • Wm_Tucker

        All network operators have a finite amount of spectrum at any given time, Jeneba. But I understand your point the MNOs have less bandwidth available than the fixed wire networks.

        The MNOs are claiming the majority of their customers only access the Web for 'static' pages and e-mail. A properly administered rate plan would free their network capacity for that minority of heavy data users, and pass the responsibility for its costs on to them.

        Still… net neutrality is about protecting users' freedom to navigate networks, not their unlimited consumption of data or price controls.



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