Another cog in the net neutrality wheel has emerged in the U.S. as telco giant Verizon goes back and forth via letter with the Federal Communications Commission about its intention to throttle the internet access of certain users.
Verizon has been at the center of the net neutrality debate since January when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to invalidate the “open internet” rules the FCC set forth in 2010. That ruling has set off a firestorm of debate around how much regulation the government should impose upon broadband providers in order to assure the flow of internet traffic remains equal between content providers and users.
VISUAL CONTEXT: PERCENTAGE OF HEAVY WEB USERS
On one hand, many believe that agencies such as the FCC should implement rules to ensure that internet service providers (ISPs) are not able to control the speed of the web to certain users, or to favor certain content providers who can pay more to have more direct, speedier access to users. The other side believes that ISPs should be able to self-regulate their traffic since they own the networks, no matter if it means some users have poorer speeds and some content providers get bottlenecked. Such a concern is at the heart of the matter currently between Verizon and the FCC.
The FCC’s Chairman Tom Wheeler issued a letter to the ISP Verizon essentially wrist-slapping it for announcing that it intends to slow the service of some users. Verizon had published this in late July:
Starting in October 2014, Verizon Wireless will extend its network optimization policy to the data users who: fall within the top 5 percent of data users on our network, have fulfilled their minimum contractual commitment, and are on unlimited plans using a 4G LTE device. They may experience slower data speeds when using certain high bandwidth applications, such as streaming high-definition video or during real-time, online gaming, and only when connecting to a cell site when it is experiencing heavy demand.
Wheeler expressed concern about this policy, saying that he is “deeply troubled” by this intended change to the “network optimization policy” of Verizon:
“Reasonable network management” concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams. It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its “network management” on distinctions among its customers’ data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology.
And Verizon has most recently retorted, saying that its service-throttling is intended to make internet lanes more available to others, and to incentivize less usage by those who are near-abusing unlimited data plans.
There appears to be no end in sight for this debate that has raged for nearly all of 2014. Rife with letters from technology giants, protests from the public and consumer advocacy groups, court cases, and continued staunchness from ISPs, the argument seems to gain momentum every month. The revision of the net neutrality rules is currently in motion; the FCC just closed its period of public comment on its Notice of Proposed Rule-making regarding web governance. But in the face of such polarized opinion, the next draft of rules is not likely to be the last.