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Published on February 6th, 2015 | by ryankapsar

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Policy and Games: Title II Proposed for Internet Providers

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Policy and Games is a look at tech policy and the gaming world.  The views expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of KBMOD or any of its contributors.

The FCC is going to vote on two controversial but related topics on February 26th. This is coming on the heels of their recent vote to increase the defined speed of broadband. The first of these votes, and what we’ll take a look at in this article, is whether or not the Internet should be regulated under Title II (the second being municipal broadband).

In 1934, the US passed one of the first telecommunications acts, which placed strict limits on telecommunication companies. There weren’t a huge number then — mostly telegraph companies and AT&T. What Title II does is classify telecommunication providers as common carriers:

“It shall be the duty of every common carrier engaged in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio to furnish such communication service upon reasonable request therefor; and, in accordance with the orders of the Commission, in cases where the Commission, after opportunity for hearing, finds such action necessary or desirable in the public interest, to establish physical connections with other carriers to establish through routes and charges applicable thereto and the divisions of such charges, and to establish and provide facilities and regulations for operating such through routes.” (Page 35)

That’s what is required of a common carrier. In layman’s terms, essentially common carriers must carry information from other carriers at a reasonable fee to their destination. This definition “opened up” the lines of AT&T to other phone providers. This is why we were able to have AOL as an internet provider over a phone line: Title II classification required the phone companies to transmit AOL’s data over the network. Cable companies and fiber network owners are currently exempt from these rules, a fact which limits who can use their lines to provide internet access. AOL would have died without Title II, as FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s cable based NABU died.

Title II is a highly contentious topic because it is regulation — and even though this regulation has good intention at its heart, specifically “public interest,” we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In fact, the National Cable and Telecom Association (NCTA — a lobbying group, i.e. telecom’s version of MPAA and RIAA) released this terrifying infographic on the potential horrors of Title II regulation. The infographic outlines a topic called “Forbearance,” which is a tool the FCC will be able to use to exclude certain portions of the Title II classifications. NCTA is essentially highlighting the fact that it’s not a perfect process. The EFF, on the other hand, argues that Forbearance is the only way to ensure that Title II classification will work effectively, without placing excessive burdens on telecommunication providers, and while protecting customers and businesses that rely on equal access to bandwidth.

Tom Wheeler has announced that Title II is the current plan for regulating the internet to prevent some of the issues I wrote about a few months ago, such as throttling Netflix and BitTorrent users. Wheeler’s proposal states that “bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services.” He proposes “to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband” while “there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling” to ensure effective rates of returns for broadband operators.

Of course, like any other regulation, these are subject to change and evolution over time. The alternative is to wait until Congress acts to ensure open internet access without hampering innovation for companies like Valve, Google, and Uber. However, Congress taking action is very unlikely, and the FCC clearly has regulating the Internet in its purview. I expect the vote to fall along party lines 3-2 for Title II reclassification of broadband and mobile broadband. I believe that we’ll see pragmatism in this vote that acknowledges that Title II is far from perfect, but it’s better than the current environment we find ourselves in. Gigaom has a great analysis of the limitations of the current plans, which are definitely significant.

Gamers will benefit a great deal from this, as Twitch won’t be throttled, and network traffic from downloading and playing games can’t be throttled– including traffic on mobile networks. So for those of you who are in rural areas with LTE, you might be able to play a game through those devices, although I can’t imagine how awful the ping would be.

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ryankapsar

Ryan

I write articles about technology policy and how it affect the gaming community.


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  • Nipnops

    We shall see if this actually helps or hinders. I would have been 100% behind this a year ago, but Sean really has changed my mind on a few things. I think that if it even spooks telecoms a bit, it is a positive.

    • Ryan Kapsar

      I think it’s the pragmatic solution. I haven’t seen realistic proposals from the telecom industry as a clear reason why Net Neutrality is bad for everyone and not just them. Also, this wasn’t the FCC’s first attempt at preventing more and more rent seeking behavior in the Telecoms without resorting to this – Verizon sued and won under the old rules that the FCC couldn’t mandate neutrality in this fashion. If this scares and creates more competition for the telecom providers they only have themselves to blame. The old rules were a lot softer and better for the telecoms.

      I also think about how in tiny Grove City we had a handful of ISPs for internet, however as soon as broadband was moving in, there was one. Allowing equal access means it’s more likely to have that competitive landscape rather than a duopoly or monopoly in an area. And considering at least one study thinks that Time Warner makes about 97% profit on Broadband, I think something needs to change.

      Is this perfect no, but no regulation ever is, but in a winner takes all market like broadband (through network effects) regulation can be positive if it’s done correctly.

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