Net Neutrality Advocates: Wireless Carriers' Network Management Must be 'Reasonable'

Net Neutrality November 7th, 2008

, Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com

SAN JOSE, November 7 – Emboldened by their summertime victory against Comcast, advocates of network neutrality said Thursday that the next front in battle for the principle would be against wireless carriers who make “unreasonable” network management decisions.

In a panel discussion on managing wireless networks at the Wireless Communications Association conference here, Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott and Google Telecom Counsel Richard Whitt said that the FCC’s Net neutrality principles would bar discrimination over wireless networks – while conceding that the networks are, for the time being, more bandwidth-constrained than wired-based network.

Wireless networks “are not different,” said Scott. “We made this mistake in the 1996 Telecom Act, and regulated different technologies under different rules, and we are paying the price.”

Wireless networks are only different to the extent that bandwidth constraints might make it harder for the FCC to prove that a particular network-management technology was “unreasonable,” said Scott.

The top lobbyist for AT&T and a vice president of the wireless industry association CTIA appeared to accept the new reality: that their wireless services will be closely scrutinized for signs of Net neutrality violations.

Net neutrality refers the principle that carriers should be barred from blocking or throttling particular applications, from prioritizing or de-prioritizing certain applications (as with Comcast’s restrictions on peer-to-peer file sharing using BitTorrent), or from promising expedited delivery of internet traffic to favored content providers.

“It is fair to say that wireless is different,” said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA.

“We absolutely do prioritize things affected by latency, like voice,” said Guttman-McCabe. Such prioritization on the network – even though it might run afoul of the FCC’s Net neutrality rules if on a wired network – was absolutely required to ensure quality telephone calls for consumers, he said.

AT&T’s “biggest concern is [that] the wireless network is built in a granularly shared network, cell-by-cell,” said Jim Cicconi, senior vice president of external and legislative affairs for AT&T. “You can overwhelm a cell by having too many people in the same cell, [as when] everyone is trying to call home [in traffic] at the same time.”

Throttling wireless movie downloads clearly trumps voice conversations in such an environment, said Cicconi.

“Our customers expect to have a certain level of quality in their usage. It is one of the reasons that we have to prioritize traffic in the cell. We are not trying to balance them for the company’s advantage, except insofar as customers will leave us” if they have bad service, he said.

Whitt agreed that such conduct was acceptable “as long as the activities taking place are designed for a completely neutral way of applications or traffic, and they are not tilting one way or the other for competitive advantage.”

“There is some concession to the point that at least for now, maybe only temporarily, there are some limits in terms of what can be done with those networks,” Whitt said.

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4 Responses to “Net Neutrality Advocates: Wireless Carriers' Network Management Must be 'Reasonable'”

  1. Arthur Allison Says:

    Just a rant on my part… I live in a rural location in SW Missouri, broadband Internet here is extremely expensive (if you can even get it, I am restricted to dialup!) I just enrolled in college and one of my course requirements is a broadband internet connection. My next door neighbor is getting wireless internet access to his home PC through AT&Tease for 60 bucks a month, not too bad really, he mentioned that he got a usb connection device for free. So I logged into the AT&T website and found the very offer he had subscribed to. I signed up immediately, took me nearly an hour to do this on my dial up but I had time to make lunch, eat it, and give my four little dogs a bath while I waited for the many pages of agreements and disclosures to load. I finally was able to hit the purchase button and about 15 minutes later I was greeted, by an extremely arrogant, “We’re sorry, we can’t complete this transaction because your credit score is too low. And to make matters worse… to the point I nearly threw my mouse across the room… They have the audacity to offer me a GO PHONE!!! OMG! I called up there sales department and was informed that I would have to pay a $750.00 security deposit, I would have to purchase a $99.00 connection device, not the free one that is offered on their web site, sign a 2 year contract with a 5gb download limit!!! I think I will be stuck with satellite internet service as my only option left, thanks to AT&T’s bait and switch/pick on the poor student tactics. I have a low credit score because I usually pay cash for everything I own, like my 200,000.00 home, I don’t have any recurring payment accounts other than utilities and taxes. I will be damned if I am going to pay AT&T a security deposit for their mediocre wireless services.

  2. Brett Glass Says:

    Inside-the-Beltway Washington lobbyists, such as Ben Scott and Richard Whitt, are trying to impose extreme regulation (which they misleadingly dub “network neutrality” but which is designed to favor particular constituencies and therefore is not “neutral at all) upon the Internet. Whitt, for example, speaks for Google — and only advocates things which are good for this huge, monopolistic corporation. Scott, similarly, works for an organization which is seeking to drum up fears of Internet censorship so as to pad its pocketbook. While we must always be vigilant to make sure that telecommunciations providers don’t engage in anticompetitive practices, we must also watch the peoole on the other side and understand their motives.

    It’s also worth noting that the wireless carriers’ concerns about bandwidth hogging are legitimate. In the recent 700 MHz spectrum auction, these carriers paid hundreds of millions of dollars for tiny 5 and 10 MHz slivers of the wireless spectrum. Those slivers can carry maybe two megabits per second of data per MHz. If one user runs P2P software — which tries to monopolize all of the bandwidth — over his wireless connection, it can tie up that entire $100 million for hours or even days. Are the carriers right to say, “we’ll only sell you so much of it as part of our $30-60 wireless plan?” Of course they are.

    Wired ISPs are right to rein in bandwidth hogs as well. In many parts of the country — especially rural areas — Internet bandwidth can cost $100 to $325 per megabit per second per month, at wholesale. Should ISPs be expected to sell that bandwidth to users below cost? Of course not. Maybe it should be cheaper at wholesale, but the ISP has no control over that.

    In general, “network neutrality” lobbyists seek one of two things: to get bandwidth below cost (which is not fair or reasonable) or to favor a particular constituency (for example, corporations like Google, the monopolist, or Vuze, which fosters illegal piracy of music and movies). Should we grant their wishes? I don’t think so.

  3. 081F89B8-3CA5-4DA5-9D62-AD3D47BDC64D Says:

    This type of discussion usually gets me thinking about how the networks really exchange data between each other. I feel it harks back to when the net was first being looked at by the Internet Godfather and their ultimate goals at DARPA.

  4. Michael Says:

    This debate over net neutrality exists, to a certain degree, because of the market conditions and lack of competition among broadband providers – it is almost like a monopoly, maybe not technically by definition, but close enough to it that there isn’t enough healthy rivalry among broadband companies to be of the mind and on the thought process of trying to offer more value to their users in order to have that competitive advantage – instead what we see is a culture and theme where the telecom firms are trying to generate more money by providing a more restricted service.

    Just look over the pond to the UK market, see a comparison site to compare broadband offers (i.e. http://www.superstoresearch.com/broadband/ ) and get a feel for the healthy competition which causes those companies to be preoccupied with improving their broadband service to offer quicker speeds and more bandwidth over other companies – that is the type of condition and state which we should be aiming for, where consumers benefit from bigger offerings and our country’s network infrastructure improves – which also paves the way for other greater economic improvements via innovations, in the long term. Anything else is a step backwards.

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