Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s testimony nor the questions and comments from members of the House Sub-committee on communications and technology did little to shed light on encouraging broadband adoption or deployment. A significant portion of today’s chatter centered on net neutrality, whether consumers would be harmed by failure of public policy to ensure an open Internet, and paid prioritization, where a content provider would pay an Internet service provider extra fees in order to send traffic at a faster speed. Members of the sub-committee appeared to be mixing up the two.
I expected the committee’s questions to address net neutrality. While Mr. Wheeler emphasized that net neutrality was about consumer assurance of use of the entire “pipe” connecting him to the Internet, I still left with the testimony with the feeling that Congress and the FCC are too focused on the entire Internet infrastructure. They appear confused about where on the Internet the FCC would be responsible for regulating.
As CNET’s Marguerite Reardon correctly noted in a blog post last week, the Internet is made up of globally interconnected networks and the FCC would only be responsible for applying its regulatory oversight over the last mile piece, that portion of the Internet where a content provider’s traffic begins traveling along an Internet service provider’s network with its final stop at the consumer’s premises.
And should we be concerned about paid prioritization preventing equal treatment of traffic pursuant to net neutrality philosophy? No, because while net neutrality has to do with the transparency of network management of the broadband pipe; no blocking of access to content of a consumer’s choice while using that pipe; and the ability of all traffic to traverse that pipe to the consumer, paid prioritization has to do with agreements entered into between content providers and broadband providers regarding how their networks are interconnected and the compensation necessary for handing off and accepting traffic. For these reasons, paid prioritization is not a net neutrality issue.
The FCC and Congress should keep the focus on the last mile.