Will the FCC Kill Net Neutrality?

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—Why the FCC’s proposed “Open Internet” rule matters to everyone and how you can take action

—By Marv Schwartz, Chief Scientist, OneCommunity

Marv Schwartz, Chief Scientist, OneCommunity

Marv Schwartz, Chief Scientist, OneCommunity

—The FCC recently released a notice of proposed rulemaking, or NPRM called “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet,” that will have a significant impact on the future of the Internet in the United States. It will be open for public comment until July 15 and you can influence the outcome. I’ll get back to this, but first I’d like to set the stage.

You’ve probably heard of net neutrality. Do you know what it means? Simplistically, net neutrality means that all traffic on the Internet be treated equally.

All traffic on the Internet is segmented into pieces called packets, and each packet contains its destination, its source, and its payload. So the Internet’s routers need to be concerned with delivering packets to their destination. Net neutrality requires all packets to be given equal priority in getting them to their destination. It does not matter who sent the packet or whether the packet belongs to a video, a large file being transferred, or short message contained entirely in a single packet. With net neutrality all have equal priority.

Have you ever watched a video on the Internet that pauses until the Internet catches up? This happens because the Internet does not have enough capacity or bandwidth. We have the technology to create bandwidth abundance on the Internet. But in most of our homes and businesses bandwidth is limited.

How do Internet Service Providers (ISPs) deal with limited bandwidth? One way is to impose data caps as most cell phone carriers do. Some ISP’s cap data by slowing way down after a certain amount of data has been transferred. A third way is to provide higher priority to individuals and companies that pay more. This is what the FCC proposes in its proposed new rule.

The FCC’s NPRM uses the vocabulary “Open Internet” but clearly this is not net neutrality. It proposes dividing the Internet into Fast Lanes and Slow Lanes with Slow Lane traffic having lower bandwidth than Fast Lane traffic. For an explanation, see “FCC votes for Internet ‘fast lanes’ but could change its mind later,” Arstechnica, May 15, 2014.

The end result will be that we will pay more for our use of the Internet when current technology should have us paying much less. But most of us have limited choices when it comes to Internet service.

Rather than concerning itself with allocating existing Internet bandwidth, as a software developer I’d prefer that the FCC support net neutrality and promote building a new national broadband infrastructure that provides the bandwidth abundance we need to remain a world technology leader. Many other countries are passing us by.

Net neutrality is very important to developers. If we have to develop apps for an Internet that has fast lanes and slow lanes, the only safe way to develop apps that are universal is to develop apps for the slow lane. That precludes important technology such as videoconferencing that should be a core capability of many next generation apps. So instead of moving us ahead, a fast lane and slow lane on the Internet is likely to move us backwards.

We already have a problem with next generation-apps—apps that are designed for gigabit networks. Because we don’t have the gigabit networks, commercial app developers, who want to sell their apps, write apps for the networks we do have. And because we don’t have the apps, ISPs argue that the networks we have are fast enough.

To break this logjam, the Whitehouse Office of Science and Technology Policy and The National Science Foundation launched US Ignite http://us-ignite.org/. Its mission is to stimulate the creation of apps that require next-generation networks as part of creating a demand for a new national broadband infrastructure. The apps address health and wellness, home energy management, public safety STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, advanced manufacturing, and economic development—all national priorities called out by the National Broadband Plan.

In my view, if the FCC’s NPRM becomes law, the networks we need to benefit from these apps will emerge very slowly if at all.

I believe our technological and economic future would benefit greatly from net neutrality and new broadband networks providing bandwidth abundance. Please let the FCC and your congressmen and senators know that we need to have net neutrality and at least gigabit bandwidth in both directions to our homes and businesses.

You can read more about this NPRM and send your comment to the FCC here:

About the Author

Marvin (Marv) S. Schwartz, PhD, is OneCommunity’s Chief Scientist and an adjunct professor of Computer Science at Case Western Reserve University. He is currently developing a software solution that will enable high definition, multipoint videoconferencing technology for high school STEM education. This project is supported by a generous grant from the National Science Foundation’s Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) funding program (http://ow.ly/w7J68) in collaboration with US Ignite (us-ignite.org).

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