You may have heard that the FCC just voted to pass new rules regulating net neutrality, outlining to what extent ISPs can block, slow, or charge extra for certain kinds of data. Among the rules, ISPs can’t block access to legal content, but are allowed to control bandwidth available to certain protocols in order to manage network resources. By and large, the rules apply to wired broadband internet. What, then, will the impact be on how you use your smartphone?
Wireless networks are going to continue to get certain exemptions to the neutrality rules, with the FCC recognizing that wireless bandwidth is a much more scarce commodity than wired bandwidth and can be more difficult to manage. Additionally, while you may only have one or two options when it comes to your home internet connection, there are far more choices available for mobile service. So, while it can be very important to make sure ISPs play fair, if a wireless provider is being abusive to its users in how it manages its network, they can always switch to a competitor.
While the full text of the rules isn’t yet available, from the statements the FCC has made, it looks like carriers can pretty much do whatever they want with their wireless networks, so long as they tell you about it. If they want to slow down Skype connections, encouraging you to use voice minutes instead, that’s kosher. While they may not be able to just outright block anything they want, they can cripple the connection or charge extra fees for its use. The one condition seems to be that they just have to be transparent about it, letting you know what steps they’re taking to limit your service.
The free ride for wireless networks may encourage infrastructure development, and allow for tighter control over network resources, but does it give carriers too much say over how you use your phone? Would you ever sign on for wireless service that heavily limited what you’re able to do online, so long as it was fast and cheap?
Source: FCC (PDF)