Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Do Operators Want Net Neutrality?

The chairman of US communications authority the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has vocalised his support for net neutrality as a way of preserving the free and open internet. The (FCC) chairman, Julius Genachowski outlined the steps he believes the Commission must take to ensure all net traffic, services and applications are treated equally.

The call for neutrality expands upon the FCC’s previous drive behind four open internet principles supporting consumers’ ability to access the lawful internet content, applications, and services of their choice, and attach non-harmful devices to the network.

The addition of two new principles would prevent internet access providers from discriminating against content or applications, while allowing for “reasonable network management”. The second principle would ensure that internet providers are transparent about the network management practices they use.

Governments around the world acknowledge that the internet is an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, investment, and opportunity and so the FCC wants to ensure that the internet is free and open. They have even launched a website at to encourage public participation in the move.

The concept of net neutrality is a hotly debated and controversial issue, with the content and application providers of the internet world accusing broadband network operators of acting as gatekeepers, preventing consumers from enjoying the full range of innovation and choice available through the open internet.

To date, the issue has only been seriously contested in the USA, where a union of web companies including YouTube, Skype, Google and eBay have been lobbying the FCC (with some apparent success) to take a stronger role in promoting a neutral and open internet. Barak Obama is a known supporter of net neutrality, a stance which may have broad ramifications for both fixed and mobile operators that provide internet access and data services. So how does net neutraility affect operators, especially ones looking to deploy LTE? Operators will be able to vary the QoS to customers depending on how much they pay and will also be able to use DPI to ensure the real time content such a video is prioritised or that P2P traffic clogging up the network is slowed down. Will the FCC allow this kind of activity?

"Operators need to have the ability to compete" according to Helen Ponsford, Programme Director for Informa's Broadband Traffic Management conference. "They need to have the ability to control the network otherwise user experience will be impaired and with high bandwidth applications, this have never been so important" For operators having this control is more about ensuring user experience. Deploying LTE provides the opportunity to fully upgrade the network in this way in addition to providing additional capacity. What "reasonable network management" is, I am not quite sure.These complex issues will be discussed and debated the the Broadband Traffic Management conference on the 17th and 18th of November in London.

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