Fighting Words on Net Neutrality

It’s impossible to pick up any trade magazine, attend any AV industry event, or talk to any AV pro and not be immediately immersed in talk of the explosion of video services, streaming video, IT/AV convergence, and IP as the future of everything. So why has there been little discussion in our industry of what could arguably be the most important new development in IP and network management in decades? I’m talking about Net Neutrality. And the bombshell ruling from a U.S. Court that came down on January 14th of this year.

What is Net Neutrality? The term describes the FCC’s position, adopted in 2010, on “Open Internet” protocol, stating that Broadband providers were essentially “common carriers” that should not be permitted to “discriminate” against any entity that sought to use its “right of way” i.e. its network infrastructure. The FCC said that an open internet means: A) Broadband providers (ISP’s) had to be “open” to consumers and content providers about how they managed bandwidth in congested networks. B) Broadband providers could not block lawful content on their networks. And C) fixed-broadband providers (not wireless) would be prohibited from "unreasonable" discrimination against traffic on their networks.

Fast forward to early 2014, and the federal judge in the January 14th decision in a case that pitted Verizon against the FCC said that the FCC based its Net Neutrality regulation on specific legal definition– common carriage designation– that does not apply to broadband providers like Verizon.

There’s good news and bad news here. Bad news first: the January court ruling ostensibly removes the common carriage argument from the equation and that could undermine the rest of Net neutrality by allowing Broadband providers to discriminate as they see fit going forward– as regards allocation of bandwidth speeds, access, etc. The good news? The court, in the same January 14th ruling, rejected Verizon’s claim that Congress did not give the FCC jurisdiction over broadband access. The court simply said that the common carriage part of the Net Neutrality rules were not valid, while writing that the FCC did have power from Congress to institute regulation pertaining to the Internet or broadband providers, “to preserve and facilitate the ‘virtuous circle’ of innovation that has driven the explosive growth of the Internet– is reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.”

So, the U.S. Supreme Court, or the U.S. Congress, or the FCC itself, could simply re-classify Broadband providers to fall under “common carriage” provisions. That would solve the issue. Will someone do that? Can they legally? Why should you care? What can you do?

“How will this impact VoIP systems, or any AV system?” said Jim Huber, solutions development manager/managed print services and technology for Office Depot (and formerly a long time top AV designer at NOR-COM). “Will someone monitor the content driven over the network in digital signage applications for example? The AV industry should care about this deeply, as the AV integration community rides on the public network.”

“The internet is an underlying technology for everything today and putting up toll roads will kill innovation and adoption,” said Jeff Collard, president of Ommivex, a top provider of digital signage management software. “Latency in communications is a major problem. Are you going to have to pay a premium for your bandwidth to ensure it is there when you need it?”

Les Goldberg, principal of LMG and one of the most successful AV stagers in the world (think Superbowl half time productions), said that while he’s concerned, he’s also concerned that “the AV community is too small to matter in this fight. We are not in the top 100 of the players. Web developers, software companies, IT hardware, cable, data, and telephone providers. AV is the low man on the totem pole.”

True, but I for one will not let this issue drop off the radar. I’ll end with these words from Jeff Collard:

“Much like your electrical utility, prices in a non-neutral world are based on peak not average consumption. If you need to have priority a certain times to ensure quick response, you have to pay the top rate to ensure that you get priority when you need it even though on average your consumption might be lower. In a neutral environment, everyone has the same priority so you only pay for what you use. If not– God help us all.”

(I'll be covering this topic, with an added focus on Content copyright, and Content distribution issues, in the coming weeks. Email your feedback and your input on this issue, to:

David Keene is a publishing executive and editorial leader with extensive business development and content marketing experience for top industry players on all sides of the media divide: publishers, brands, and service providers. Keene is the former content director of Digital Signage Magazine.