Chairman Julius Genachowski of the Federal Communications Commission is set to introduce a proposed Order at the FCC's meeting today on the highly contentious Network Neutrality issue.
The proposal seeks a middle ground among broadband ISPs (such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T), content providers (such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon), and public interest groups (such as Free Press and Public Knowledge), a difficult if not impossible task on this supercharged issue. One thing is sure; no one will be satisfied, everyone will complain.
The focus of debate has been upon what rules will be embedded in the order. Transparency is sure to be included (we strongly agree) as well as a non-discrimination rule (sounds good, but what happens when the first spam factory complains an ISP is blocking their traffic?), both of which would apply to wireline and wireless broadband. We have argued before that wireless is a quite competitive industry with special technical and capacity issues and the FCC should back off. They have indeed backed off somewhat from earlier proposals, but certainly not all the way.
Apparently, the FCC will signal that permitting usage-based pricing to customers will be OK (which is true today, but few wireline ISPs do it). Charging content providers for superior service, however, will not be OK. Seems the Post Office can offer express service and first-class service without attracting negative comment, but ISPs will not be able to offer such services to content providers. Incidentally, such "paid priority" services (in the form of third-party caching services, such as offered by Akamai) have been in use since 1998; many content providers who value speedy delivery of content are Akamai customers. So why can't ISPs be in the same business?