FCC Needs Time for A Sanity Check on Network Neutrality

NEWS ANALYSIS: With the Federal Communications Commission scheduled to discuss net neutrality on May 15, special interests on all sides are clamoring for a chance to have their say.

One of the few sensible things to come out of the public debate on net neutrality over the past few weeks that doesn't seem self-serving is Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel's suggestion that the commission put off further discussion of its Open Internet order for at least a month.

Unfortunately, the whole discussion of what constitutes neutrality has become so distorted by the influx of sacred cows that it resembles a cattle feed lot, smell and all.

On one hand, the companies that make up "big Internet" are calling for an end to any possibility that they be asked to help pay for the traffic they create. They pretend that they're doing all of this in the public interest, but a look at which companies are trying to avoid paying their way shows that they're the very ones that suck up most of the Internet bandwidth.

On the other hand, there are individuals and groups that say that any change in how companies and users pay for the network infrastructure that makes up the Internet will bring doom, the collapse of the U.S. economy and, perhaps, the end of civilization and life as we know it.

The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in between.

The companies that provide the basic network infrastructure have to pay to build and maintain it. Much of what they're being asked to build is ultimately going to support a few very large bandwidth users such as Netflix, which at times eats up half the Internet bandwidth in the United States. One way or the other, they're going to have to build this infrastructure, and one way or another they have to recover their costs. The choice boils down to who pays for it.

The end users who want to consume Internet content understandably want to keep their costs down and most would prefer that they not have to pay extra to download data in the form of movies and the like, even if that means other users have to pay more to support their desires.

Meanwhile, the extreme end of the net neutrality debate says that any cost sharing, no matter how limited and how controlled, means the end of the Internet. But does it? How is that really true?

Many argue that the idea of asking companies such as Netflix to pay for better access somehow discriminates against startup companies. But how would it do that? If FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler plans to create rules that don't allow blocking or marginalizing all legal access, wouldn't startups have the same access as anyone else?

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...