Impact of Net Neutrality Win on ISPs, Edge Networks, CDNs and Users
March 31, 2015 | Robert Gibb
Since we helped throttle the FCC last year, it’s been a long journey for net neutrality in the United States. But on February 26, the FCC voted in favor of net neutrality and created the Open Internet rules as part of their promise to keep the Internet unrestricted and available to everyone.
Broadband Internet providers, however, sued the FCC on March 23, claiming the ruling oversteps federal law and limits growth and development in the industry.
The FCC ruling is a huge win for Internet users across the world, and the fact broadband providers are challenging this ruling shows that we’re closer to treating the Internet as a public utility than ever before. One association that includes some of the country’s largest broadband providers believes the new rules will give the government too much power over the Internet. We’ve seen what some providers are capable of with limited regulation, and it’s time to put some power back into the hands of the consumers.
Although the Open Internet rules aren’t a foolproof solution, the FCC recognizes the need to safeguard the Internet as an open and unrestricted platform. In this post, we’ll discuss what the ruling means for you and for the Internet in general.
Key Points of the Ruling
At the heart of the Open Internet is the FCC’s reclassification of broadband Internet from an information service to a telecommunications service. This shift allows the FCC to regulate broadband Internet providers as common carriers under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, bringing high speed Internet under the same regulatory umbrella as landline phones.
Video: Succinct explanation of 2015 Net Net Neutrality rules
Stemming from Title II classification are the FCC’s three bright line rules that regulate the ways broadband providers can impede or limit a customer’s Internet access. These rules prevent broadband providers from:
- Blocking access to legal content or services
- Throttling or slowing down connections based on content
- Creating “fast lanes” that prioritize certain kinds of content over others
The ruling includes a broader clause that applies similar requirements to situations that aren’t covered by the bright line rules. In cases where the bright line rules don’t apply, broadband providers still can’t discriminate against a user’s traffic without a “very good reason.”
The ruling also requires more transparency from broadband providers. Providers are now required to fully disclose promotional rates, fees, surcharges, data caps and allowances, network reliability, and other information that clarifies terms of service. The goal is to make it easier for consumers to make informed decisions when comparing different providers and services.
Impact on Edge Networks and CDNs
The Open Internet order focuses on the “last mile” – the stretch between ISPs and their customers. Connections between edge networks and ISPs, and interconnection agreements in general, will be left mostly untouched. The FCC, recognizing that it has a limited understanding of the structure of the Internet outside of the last mile, has decided to take a “watch and learn” approach.
A common misconception is that CDNs use paid prioritization to improve their speed. By definition, paid prioritization requires a last mile service provider (typically an ISP) to shape traffic to favor certain kinds of of content over others. With paid prioritization, providers take advantage of their position as gateway between their users and content providers to limit or block access to certain services.
On the other hand, interconnection agreements allow CDNs to host their content closer to their customers.
Edge networks often use peering to spread their networks across geographic areas, allowing users in those areas to connect more quickly to services offered by the CDN. Rather than pay for preferential treatment, CDNs pay to locate their content closer to their users. Peering typically has the opposite effect of paid prioritization: Instead of discouraging users from choosing different services, peering allows more services to reach more users without having to incur additional costs.
Impact on Users
The FCC’s bright-line rules are designed to protect customers from receiving unfair or biased treatment from their ISPs regarding the content they transmit. The ruling shifts broadband providers away from their role as gatekeepers towards a more neutral role. The result is a more open Internet that anyone can fully take part in, without having to pay extra for certain sites or services.
(1/3) #OpenInternet rules mean Internet users will be able to go where they want, when they want.
— Tom Wheeler (@TomWheelerFCC) February 26, 2015
The bright line rules aren’t a foolproof solution though.
For one, they don’t address services that transmit data without providing access to the general Internet, such as home energy sensors or even heart monitors. The FCC presents no way of resolving interconnection disputes – such as Netflix’s disputes with Verizon and Comcast – other than on a case-by-case basis. The ruling also doesn’t address the practice of zero rating that makes certain apps and services exempt from mobile data plan caps.
As with edge networks, the FCC is delaying action until it has a better understanding of the processes it’s trying to address.
The Road Ahead for Net Neutrality
The FCC may have voted in favor of net neutrality, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. As mentioned earlier, a non-profit organization representing several large telecom companies has already filed a lawsuit against the new ruling, claiming it violates federal law, the Constitution, and the Communications Act of 1934. It argues that relaxed regulation is what drove the broadband boom of the last decade and that new regulations will stifle innovation in the broadband market.
However, the FCC’s ruling isn’t designed to inhibit progress in the broadband market. Instead it strives to protect the Internet as a platform for free speech and innovation. It’s a step away from the Internet as a tiered platform where users are charged more for access to certain websites or services, and a step closer to the Internet as an open channel for global communication.
Title II regulation is a huge win for the Internet, but we’re not in the clear just yet.