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Net Neutrality

NetN Netflix

 

How is your Internet experience? Is it throttled, blocked, are you in the fast-lane, do you pay more  for speed; are you not prioritized?  How would you know if you were throttled? Information Service providers are under Title I and are loosely regulated while telecommunication providers are under Title II (Common Carrier) and  are tightly regulated.

Ten years ago, internet traffic came from thousands of companies. Then,  in 2009, half the traffic started coming  from 150 large content providers. Now, only 30 companies control half the traffic. The Internet is a very different place today than it was ten years ago, and certainly it is more different than how it was in 1996 when the Telecommunication act classified ISP’s as Information Service Providers, Title I.

Even though it has been a hot topic since 2002, the Open Internet or the Net Neutrality debate gained momentum in January 2014.  Verizon Communications brought forth a lawsuit to challenge the 2010 FCC Ruling on the Open Internet, which states  there are no paid prioritizations and blocking or throttling traffic is not allowed.  The ruling also requires transparency and internet access for all. It was only put in place for wired Broadband providers, not the wireless broadband providers.  However, the US Court of Appeals finally heard the case and, in favor of Verizon, ruled that the FCC could not regulate the Internet Service Providers.  It took four years to work through the courts.

The emerging ISP’s were classified under Title I by the FCC in 1996; therefore, the FCC could not impose rules on them.  In order to impose rules on them, the court said that the FCC needed to reclassify the ISP’s as Common Carriers under Title II of the Communications act of 1934.  Did you know the FCC was created by Congress in this act to oversee the telecommunications industry?  Being classified as Title II would mean the FCC could regulate prices and require approval before providers could offer new services and products. Also, this means the FCC could force the ISP’s to lease capacity on their lines to competing ISP’s, and don’t forget increased taxes and tariffs.

This is where forbearance and the hybrid approach come in.  Most advocates do not want the FCC as the gateway to new products in the marketplace. However, they also don’t want the ISP’s prioritizing their content over competing content. The number of ISP’s continues to shrink.

How will the FCC implement Forbearance? The FCC wants to enable the open access rules; however, they do not want to slow down innovation by having to approve new products or services. The FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, has proposed a way forward and will be presenting it to the FCC Committee at the end of February. He is including wired and wireless broadband providers. In addition to the FCC direction, many people and groups are adding their comments. For example, President Obama, is advocating for full Title II classification,  many others are taking the , “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” position.    Congress is also weighing in by proposing bills that would ban classifying ISP’s as public utilities.

1996 Telecommunications Act: Summary

Section 706 of the act requires the FCC to determine whether “advanced telecommunications capability (broadband or high-speed access) is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner.” Universal Service was also mandated in the 1996 Act.  An extension of the Act is the E-Rate program; it enables grants and discounts for libraries, schools, etc. to connect to the Internet. The E-Rate program is paid for with taxes from the Title II participants.

Trigger event –  So who is blocking whose traffic?

In order to move traffic across the internet,, the Internet Access providers (Comcast, Verizon FIOS, Time-Warner Cable, etc) created contractual peering exchange agreements between themselves and the Internet Transit providers (Level 3, Cogent Communications, XO Communication, etc.) to allow traffic to flow back and forth across the various networks. The intent is that they will share about the same volume of traffic to keep the peering agreement balanced.  So, what happens when one party increases their traffic significantly?

In May 2014, Level 3, an Internet backbone provider, said that Comcast allowed traffic to back-up (slow down) at the peering points between the two networks when L3 and Comcast were still working through their peering agreement. Level 3 has Netflix as a customer, and they were delivering much more data through Comcast, resulting in a lopsided peering agreement. When carriers have roughly the same traffic volume, each one is happy. However, when there is an imbalance for a significant period of time,  the agreement needs to be brought back into balance.  Netflix moved from Akamai to level 3. Previously, Akamai paid Comcast for the Netflix traffic, however, now Level 3 wants to transit the exchange while not having to pay more.  Comcast wants Level 3 to pay for the increased traffic. So, is this throttling?

A brief timeline

Old Phone

 

Year, Act
1887 – Interstate commerce act Railroads had to be regulated due to their anti-competitive practices. This is where the term common carrier started.
1934 – Communication Act FCC is created. Title II definition of Common Carriers for Phone companies.
1984 – ATT Broken Up Seven Regional Operating Bell companies. Before this, you needed ATT’s permission to connect a device to their network. This opened the door for Modems. Without this you would not have AOL or Earthlink.
1992 – FCC Re-regulated Cable TV Cables business practices required it to be re-regulated.
1996 – Telecommunications Act Universal access and ISP’s classified at Title I, Information Service Provider.  Not Title II.
2002 – Tim Wu coins the term Net Neutrality was first described, after Tim Wu  worked for Riverstone networks. When he went to work for a Chinese ISP , they blocked each other’s traffic.
2005 – FCC puts principles in place for ISP’s. Then FCC Chairman Michael Powel: Put principles in place to set the foundation for the concepts of transparency, nondiscrimination and reasonable network management
2007 – Comcast throttles traffic from BitTorrent. This creates a big debate on large ISP’s controlling traffic and prioritizing.
2010 – FCC Ruling, follow up on  the 2005 Principles. The FCC Ruling forces the ISP’s to be transparent on how they handle network congestion, andprohibits them from blocking traffic on wired networks.It outlaws discrimination on their networks. (Cannot prioritize your service over someone else).Verizon Communications brings forth a lawsuit on the ability of the FCC to regulate the ISP’s. 
2014 January- US Appeals rules FCC cannot regulate ISP’s The court agreed with the FCC’s arguments that Section 706 of the Communications Act gives it authority to regulate broadband networks. However, the court found that the FCC could not regulate broadband under common carrier rules, because it has not classified the service as a telecommunication service.
2014 – FCC is reviewing how to handle and classify the ISP’s. FCC solicits public comments. (John Olivers’ rant crashes the FCC Web Site)
2014- May Event:  L3, Comcast, and Netflix L3 wins Netflix as a customer, starts sending huge volumes to its peering ISP’s.  Comcast allows a backup to occur on the interchange.  The peering agreement becomes lopsided. L3 thinks the increased volume should be covered under the peering agreement  and Comcast wants to renegotiate.
2014 – President comments on NN and regulation. States his opinion on the need for Regulation under Title II.
2014 – FCC bandwidth Considers moving Broadband minimum  bandwidth download from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps.
2015 – President comments Comments on Net Neutrality (NN) in Iowa where the Internet speed is at 1 Gbps and  makes the case for inner cities and rural areas.
2015 – Republican Congress takes up the Net Neutrality issue. Republican congress introduces possibility of new legislation for NN, banning throttling and blocking.
2015 – FCC Commission will vote on new Net Neutrality rules.

 

Where do we go from here?

It’s clearly a complex issue. Even Federal and Local state governments are involved. There are fewer and fewer ISP’s which thereby limits consumer choices and decreases competition.  Comcast is trying to buy Time Warner Cable, which would create a giant business that would own almost 40% of  households using the Internet.

Fewer and Fewer content providers are generating larger amounts of traffic. Netflix and YouTube account for 45% of the Internet traffic and just wait till Facebook and Twitter really get their video services running. Then add Amazon Prime. Traffic continues to grow significantly. Today, many large content providers place their servers at the Access ISP facility, essentially co-location. This allows them to bypass the Transit ISP’s and deliver content faster to the consumer. Is this paid for prioritization or just a reality when you generate 30% of the traffic?

Is there really a problem?  Certainly Level 3 and Comcast need to work out their issues, but this seems like an outlier.  Has anyone had an issue with their content being blocked or throttled at large? It seems more focused on what could go wrong.

Google is becoming an ISP with their fiber initiative, they are both content and ISP.  Its up to the local governments to allow more than one ISP in the community.

We need to encourage innovation, so the FCC must not be the approver of new services or products.

We need the FCC to keep the ISP’s honest with clear visibility into the traffic flow across the Internet. They must be able to intercede if the ISP’s contracts are getting in the way of providing service.

A key component of the Open Internet is continued access for Libraries, schools and rural regions.

The FCC musts react quickly to violations regarding the Open Internet Policy.

Stay tuned for the FCC Commission meeting on February 26th.

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