In a leaked presentation, two companies that sell their services to cellular carriers showed off a wireless product that appears to achieve the opposite of the net neutrality rules proposed by the Federal Communications Commission.
In the PowerPoint presentation, available on Wired, Allot Communications and Openet proposed a tiered, fee-based access to Web services. Under this model, carriers can monitor users’ online activity and charge extra for using certain applications, such as YouTube and Skype.
In one slide, the companies proposed charging a Vodafone customer $0.02 per MB for using Facebook, three Euros to use Skype, and $0.50 monthly for a speed-limited version of YouTube. For the same customer, access to Vodafone servers would be free, allowing the company to create products that undercut the competition, as users shift towards the free-to-access services.
Customer usage would be monitored using “methods like heuristic analysis, behavioral and historical analysis, deep packed inspection, and a number of other techniques,” according to the presentation.
Net neutrality advocates have criticized the net neutrality rules roughly outlined by the FCC chairman Julius Genachowski earlier this month because it exempts mobile carriers from the fairness rules. The rules, if approved, would prohibit high-speed Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon Communications from blocking lawful traffic. While no one has actually seen the full details of the proposal, Genachowski had proposed giving wireless Internet providers some flexibility in managing traffic, but to “closely monitor the development of the mobile broadband market.”
The proposed product is similar to how cable companies currently charge customers for video offerings, with different packages offering different levels of service.
“It certainly is exactly the thing we have been warning the companies will do if they have the opportunity and explains why AT&T and Verizon are so insistent that the wireless rules be solely about blocking and not anything else,” Public Knowledge legal director Harold Feld told Wired. “If you want the slide deck to show why we need the same rules for wireless and wireline, this is it.”
Netflix and Skype have called the FCC rules as outlined weak, and entrepreneurs took to blogs and Twitter to argue that if approved, it would stifle innovation. More than 80 groups sent an open letter to the FCC on Dec. 10, saying the proposal was not “real” net neutrality because there was no outright ban on paid prioritization of online content.
Genachoswski had said he supported a usage-based pricing model that would charge users extra for exceeding bandwidth limits. But there was no mention of creating “fast lanes” where certain Web sites can pay ISPs and carriers for the privilege of being prioritized to reach more users more quickly.
Cellular providers currently act like a utility like other broadband companies, connecting the mobile device to the Internet. Customers pay for access to a maximum amount of data, and the provider is expected to deliver that content, regardless of the site or application. The net neutrality rules seek to enforce those rules.
The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposal Dec. 21. The two Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn have signaled their intent to vote in support. The proposal is expected to pass despite the objections from Republican Commissioners Meredith A. Baker and Robert McDowell.