NARUC Resolution on Net Neutrality
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners has done something the FCC seems unable to do – recognize that there are two sides to the Internet. While the NPRM on net neutrality specifically focuses on access providers, a resolution passed by NARUC earlier today specifically notes “the right of all Internet users, including broadband wireline, wireless, cable modem, and application-based users, to have access to and the use of the Internet that is unrestricted as to viewpoint and that is provided without unreasonable discrimination as to lawful choice of content.”
That piece in bold is key as it specifically suggests that application providers might also have motivation to unreasonably discriminate and should be held to the same standards as access providers. NARUC’s intent in this regard was made more clear in the final clause:
NARUC encourages the FCC and/or Congress, when crafting rules and regulations in this area to define what constitutes unreasonable restrictions or unreasonable discrimination, strive to be as technologically neutral as possible, continue to give providers incentive for innovation and a fair return on their investment, without jeopardizing the goals of ensuring that all consumers have access to and use of affordable and reliable broadband services. (emphasis mine)
Technology neutrality should be the cornerstone of all FCC decisions. It is simply not the role of government to pick winners and losers. The current NPRM clearly does this by placing its emphasis on access. The last clause in the NARUC resolution puts the emphasis in the right place by suggesting that access is key, but so is the use of Internet applications – which would not be covered.
That NARUC chose the term “unreasonable discrimination” is important as well. Most of the net neutrality advocates have been pushing for blanket “non-discrimination” language that would prevent any discrimination at all. As George has pointed out, having such concepts enshrined in law will actually harm some applications. Specifically, latency sensitive applications like game and VoIP traffic would immediately see the detrimental effects of having to fight for space on a crowded network.
While some have argued that more capacity is the key, and ISPs should just build more, George has also pointed out the fallacy of that argument.
NARUC, having the benefit of members who work day-to-day with the ISPs on the ground in their states, understand better than political appointees in Washington the impact of such decisions. While they may have endorsed the idea of net neutrality, it is good that they have made specific provisions to recognize the real-world implications of such a policy.
By urging a move from non-discrimination to unreasonable discrimination, they recognize that “big dumb pipes” are a model for the Internet that was abandoned years ago. They also realize you cannot have a neutral internet if only one side of the content/access equation has to abide by those rules.