Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski officially proposed “net neutrality” rules, which would require Internet providers to keep the Internet open, and not block or disrupt Internet applications or services.
This is an important step, because keeping an open Internet is important to consumers and businesses, and monopoly (or duopoly) Internet providers must never be given the role of taste-maker. While lobbyists may fight this to the end, we expect a version will eventually be passed. Genachowski plans to a proceeding next month for comment and to write the rules.
But net neutrality has its limitations. Specifically:
Net neutrality is not App Store neutrality.
Just because Internet providers can’t block or limit applications, it doesn’t mean open access to everything. As we understand the rules, Apple will still be able to control which apps get into its iPhone App Store, which is a function of the iPhone’s operating system, and not something offered by an Internet service provider.
For example, this suggests that Apple will be able to keep the Google Voice app out of the App Store as long as it wants.
Net neutrality won’t prevent your ISP from jacking bandwidth pricing skyward.
As Wired‘s Daniel Roth notes on Twitter, there’s nothing in today’s speech that mentions regulation of bandwidth caps, nor consumption-based billing. Internet providers are still free to cap your Internet consumption how they see fit, and bill you accordingly.
Earlier this year, Time Warner Cable tried — and postponed — consumption-based billing. It would have been extremely unpopular with consumers, but there’s nothing to suggest that ISPs won’t try it in the future.
Net neutrality lets ISPs decide what’s “lawful” distribution of copyrighted content.
“Open Internet principles apply only to lawful content, services and applications — not to activities like unlawful distribution of copyrighted works, which has serious economic consequences,” Genachowski’s speech says. “The enforcement of copyright and other laws and the obligations of network openness can and must co-exist.”
This is fine, in theory. But this assumes that Internet providers can detect and enforce “unlawful” distribution properly, taking fair use and other rightful usage into account. That could be a challenge — and if ISPs’ automated systems make mistakes, it could be a public relations nightmare.
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