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FCC's Net neutrality push: Is wireless access different?

The Federal Communications Commission forged ahead with its Net neutrality proposals and invited industry players to comment on six principles. It didn't have to wait long. The big question: Would Net neutrality regulations hamper the wireless industry?

The Federal Communications Commission forged ahead with its Net neutrality proposals and invited industry players to comment on six principles. It didn't have to wait long. The big question: Would Net neutrality regulations hamper the wireless industry?

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Monday outlined six Net neutrality principles including two new ones focused on network management transparency and non-discrimination against content and applications (Techmeme, FCC speech).

The reaction from Comcast, AT&T and Verizon was mixed. To wit:

  • Comcast says: "Before we rush into a new regulatory environment for the Internet, let’s remember there can be no doubt that the Internet has enjoyed immense growth even as these debates have gone on. The Internet in America has been a phenomenal success that has spawned technological and business innovation unmatched anywhere in the world. So it’s still fair to ask whether increased regulation of the Internet is a solution in search of a problem."
  • AT&T says: “We are concerned, however, that the FCC appears ready to extend the entire array of net neutrality requirements to what is perhaps the most competitive consumer market in America, wireless services."
  • Verizon also raised the wireless issue, according to CNet News' Maggie Reardon: "Our customers want an open experience," David Young, Verizon's vice president of regulatory affairs. "They want more choices, which is why we allow third-party developers and are providing developers complete access to our network. But our concern is that these new regulations, which apply regulation to the Internet for the first time, could have unintended consequences."
  • The CTIA, a wireless industry group, says: "As a justification for the adoption of rules, the Chairman suggested that one reason for concern ‘has to do with limited competition among service providers.’  This is at the core of our concerns.  Unlike the other platforms that would be subject to the rules, the wireless industry is extremely competitive, extremely innovative, and extremely personal.  How do the rules apply to the single-purpose Amazon Kindle?  How does it apply to Google’s efforts to cache content to provide a better consumer experience?  How about the efforts from Apple and Android, Blackberry and Nokia, Firefly and others to differentiate the products and services they develop for consumers?  Should all product and service offerings be the same?"

Reading the tea leaves it appears that the big network providers aren't going to fight a whole lot over landline access. Wireless will be a different story entirely.

And that makes a lot of sense. Think about it: There's limited bandwidth in wireless; there's unlimited data plans in theory; and wireless networks aren't nearly as developed. If the FCC goes too heavy on new regulations there could be unforeseen wireless repercussions. Meanwhile, the FCC's take on transparent network management requirements may be more of an issue in the wireless industry. Simply put, network management---and making sure there's enough access to go around---is really the entire game in the wireless industry.

Smart Planet: Net neutrality: When does transparency collide with competitive edge?