The battle over wireless networks begins

The battle for net neutrality begins (iStock)The FCC has thrown down the gauntlet about network neutrality. While there is a case to be made both for and against a government mandated network neutrality, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is strongly making the case for it. He’s working to have the FCC’s current governing principals turned into hard-coded rules, and to increase the four to six, adding in a principal regarding network non-discrimination (aka neutrality) and one on transparency and openness.
Those are some fighting words.

The FCC has so far skirted around the issues of network neutrality, ruling in ways that indicated their support of the concept, but not calling it out specifically. This latest move is going to cause ripples.

For software and service companies, this is great news. It doesn’t address the issues behind Apple’s rejection of Google Voice (an issue the FCC has investigated, but after it was clear AT&T wasn’t involved in the rejection, I don’t think they will pursue it much further). But this does open up possibilities for data heavy applications like video and VoIP over mobile. Sort of.

See, the problem with network neutrality is that the networks, especially in terms of wireless networks, are already struggling under increased data pressure. AT&T didn’t fully anticipate the impact the iPhone would have, and data users on the network can certainly attest to this. Wireless infrastructure, up to the current 3G rollout, can’t handle the same volume of traffic as grounded lines – which is part of the reason behind the femtocell initiative.

What’s going to happen if network neutrality happens and wireless infrastructure can’t handle it? Probably more visible bandwidth caps, or overall network throttling during peak times. In essence, we may see consumers griping before they start rejoicing, and initiatives that depend on heavy data use may want to reconsider their bandwidth usage during this time. Eventually, everything will sort out, as 4G brings with it lots of promise, including wider “tubes.” It’s still premature to assume network neutrality will go through, but a major push has just been made.