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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

FCC Caves to Industry, The End of Net Neutrality

Posted by Jonathan Golob on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 9:50 AM

From NYT:

The Federal Communications Commission appears poised to pass a controversial set of rules that broadly create two classes of Internet access, one for fixed-line providers and the other for the wireless Net.

The proposed rules of the online road would prevent fixed-line broadband providers like Comcast and Qwest from blocking access to sites and applications. The rules, however, would allow wireless companies more latitude in putting limits on access to services and applications.


On the surface, this sounds like a fair compromise—one of those craven pro-business deals that the Obama-led Democratic party is so fond of. We—the consumers—get 'neutral' wired broadband, the industry gets to do what they please with wireless internet.

The lovely new Cr-48 speaks to everything wrong with this deal. If the future of computing is all 'cloud' (that's to say, open a web browser and open pages and data hosted on distant servers to accomplish even the most minor of tasks), then the future of the internet is wireless, not wired.

There is a reason that the Cr-48 includes a 'free' 100 mb of wireless data a month, and there is no (sanctioned) android equivalent of the iPod Touch or the iPad sans 3G data. Google's strategy is to get you to their servers as quickly as possible—so that you're willing to transfer your entire (computing) life to their servers rather than on your hard drive. Not because they're swell. It's good business to hold your data hostage.

Verizon knows this, as does AT&T (and the lesser wireless monopolists). Wired's scoop about the wireless industry's plans post-dead net neutrality tells it all:

The idea? Make it possible for your wireless provider to monitor everything you do online and charge you extra for using Facebook, Skype or Netflix. For instance, in the seventh slide of the above PowerPoint, a Vodafone user would be charged two cents per MB for using Facebook, three euros a month to use Skype and $0.50 monthly for a speed-limited version of YouTube. But traffic to Vodafone’s services would be free, allowing the mobile carrier to create video services that could undercut NetFlix on price.

In short, you’d have a hard time creating a better graphic of the future that net neutrality advocates warn will be imminent if the federal government does not apply fairness rules to the mobile internet. A court struck down an earlier set of fairness rules in the spring, but it was never clear if those rules applied to wireless carriers.

So what, you say. I'll just use the now-protected wired internet. Wired 'broadband' internet in the United States is dismally bad in most places—with no prospect for improvement. FiOS is dead, with no further expansions planned. ADSL is terrible, and not likely to improve. Cable internet is slightly less terrible; but even with DOCSIS 3.0 available in a few places, the speeds are only slightly better than that achievable with LTE wireless networks. The future of the internet, and internet infrastructure investment is in wireless.

Why? If cloud computing becomes the way we use computers, we'll want and almost need always-on internet. Not mostly on. Not 95% on. Always. Wireless can do that. Wired internet—even in a city like ours with a fantastic network of public WiFi available—cannot.

Google—one must expect—is aware of all of this. Their growing alliance with Verizon reflects this awareness. As consumers, and users of the internet, we best be aware as well. With this terrible 'deal' becoming a reality, it might already be too late.

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