Do the FCC’s Open Internet Rules Show ‘BIAS’ Against AV?

New regulations from the Federal Communications Commission in the debate known as “net neutrality” could cause big problems for the AV industry.

On February 26, years of discussion and debate resulted in the reclassification of broadband internet access under Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by the commission.

While the FCC touts the new definitions as “clear rules of the road,” exactly what the new policy means to AV integrators and end users could be mired in lawsuits while the courts untangle the meaning and implementation. As audio professional and net neutrality expert Josh Srago put it, “It is a giant mess.”

The rules now protect what the FCC classifies as BIAS, or Broadband Internet Access Service, and prohibits ISPs (Internet Service Providers) from blocking, throttling or prioritizing those signals. That portion of the policy is generally seen as a win for typical internet consumers and small ISPs, which would have had to absorb or pass along the costs associated with ensuring customers had the same access as those of larger and deeper-pocketed ISPs, had the commission not evolved its stance during the debate.

Unfortunately, what seems like a win for general internet consumers isn’t necessarily one for the AV industry. That’s because most of the products that are ubiquitous in AV are considered non-BIAS since they don’t access all of the data on the internet and do not search the web. Quite literally, that pushes AV to the sidelines.

“It all depends on whether your uses are considered BIAS or not,” said Srago. “Depending on how they define what you do, that will determine whether or not you will be protected by these rules.”

The FCC policy specifically classifies “facilities-based VoIP and Internet-Protocol video offerings” as non-BIAS data services. Additionally, the connectivity that is bundled with e-readers, energy consumption sensors—even heart monitors—is also considered non-BIAS. The distinctions blur, according to Srago.

“Video over IP isn’t protected, but streaming media [such as Netflix] is,” said Srago. “But what is that? It’s VoIP. They qualify as facilities based, but what is that? There is a lot of contradiction and vagueness that leaves it open to lawsuits.”

The potential impact to the AV industry extends to other services that integrators provide to customers, such as support done over remote-access VPN (virtual private network).

“VPNs are not protected, so all remote services and log-ins could be at risk depending on the time of day [the service is provided],” said Srago. “It's not that we won’t be able to do it if it’s a non-BIAS signal, it's that non-BIAS signals are completely removed from prioritization of the network.

“Anything the FCC considers BIAS is protected. That means the ISPs can do whatever they want. If they want to charge an extra access fee [for non-BIAS signals], technically speaking, they can. Given the fact that VPN, VoIP, Dante and AVB fall under this because they are application based, they are considered non-BIAS and that is a big deal. That part kind of got ignored by the FCC.”

What can an AV integrator do now other than wait to see what the fallout will be?

“As of this moment in time,” said Srago, “integrators need to be conscious of whether or not their ISP is going to challenge the ruling. That applies to their ISPs and their customers’ ISPs, as well.”

Read the full text of the FCC decision here.

Read Josh Srago’s full extensive take on it here.

Jim Beaugez is a freelance writer and content creator for the AV, professional audio, and music industries. His work has been published by Systems Contractor News, Pro Sound News, Mix, Radio World, and The Recording Academy, as well as Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Guitar World, Guitar Player, and other consumer publications. He previously worked in communications for the pro audio and musical instruments industries.