Need to Know: Random Access mode
The crusade for net neutrality is turning into a food fight between Google and wireless broadband providers that has cable operators struggling to stay in the game and regulators changing the rules. With streaming video a compelling new alternative to television and mobile phones far outnumbering personal computers and tvs, net neutrality has become a free-for-all of rival traditional and new constituents.
Based on chairman Julius Genachowski's recent call for preemptive regulation, some fear the FCC could flip the focus of net neutrality from consumers' rights to controlling ISPs and stifling competition. Cable operators are concerned a change in FCC rules will restrain their ability to manage digital cable and other premium services.
Despite unprecedented consumer choice, critics say the "regulatory creep" of net neutrality appears inevitable, and many are blaming Google. That underscores the challenge of legally defining and identifying the "networks" in net neutrality.
Although Google will more than double its domestic consumer Internet traffic to about 37% in 2010, it pays only about $344 million of consumer flat-rate annual Internet fees of about $44 billion. Even if the fcc frees up additional spectrum to ease bandwidth pricing and depletion concerns, the economics of access will be a new focal point.
That underscores another dilemma: trying to regulate the evolving wireless broadband marketplace in which the same rules don't evenly apply to all parties. Comcast was quickly reprimanded for apparently slowing or blocking connections of subscribers using excessive broadband. By comparison, wireless service providers control the devices, services and applications on their respective networks.
For instance, Apple's wildly popular iPhone is exclusively serviced by its own App Store and AT&T's domestic networks, resulting in its recent controversial rebuff of Google Talk's voice over Internet Protocol application that would have presented users with competitive choices. In its public policy blog, Google refers to the iPhone-AT&T block as "regulatory capitalism."
Thanks to convergence, Google is all about video, cable operators rely on voice services as their primary revenues source, and phone companies are fixed on selling broadband applications and services.
In October, the Wi-Fi Alliance - comprised of Apple, Cisco, Intel and 300 other Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers - said it will sell technology that effectively turns gadgets into mini access points able to create wireless connections with other Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets or broadband modems within a radius of about 300 feet. The new Wi-Fi Direct technology will be built directly into consumer electronics and automatically scan the vicinity for existing hotspots and the gamut of Wi-Fi equipped devices, including smartphones, computers, tvs, and gaming consoles.
The move will boost Wi-Fi capability and usage to new levels, creating new challenges to the fcc chairman's desire to "preserve a free and open Internet" as a platform for innovation, opportunity and prosperity in a wireless broadband world.