In the never ending argument for (or against) net neutrality, wireless carriers have commented that while physically linked internet connections may be subjected to the rules of net neutrality, wireless internet connections (i.e. through cellular carriers) should not be. Their reasoning is that while physical connection bandwidth is plentiful, the wireless bandwidth is limited and thus requires them to do with it what they please. This might seem okay, until you see what they might be planning to do with that freedom.
One of the arguments from wireless providers is their ability to prioritize specific types of data. Suppose a large group of users are accessing bandwidth intensive content using their smartphones, and utilizing pretty much every last ounce of bandwidth they can get their hands on. Now these users aren’t streaming anything crucial, let’s say, last night’s episode of some popular TV show. Then, a single person has an emergency, dials 911, and in order for emergency services to pinpoint their location they need the data connection to pull GPS coordinates and transmit it to them. At this point the network has no choice but to slow down the other user’s streaming content to allow those GPS coordinates to pass as quickly as possible. The FCC currently has no intention of restricting prioritization on physical or wireless connections and I tend to agree with this standing. Corporate networks engage in this type of prioritizing (also referred to as Quality of Service) all the time to ensure the most reliable transmission of the traffic that they deem most important, same concept. I say, let them continue to prioritize as long as the provider remembers that they serve a vast array of customers, each with different bandwidth needs, and prioritize traffic based on those customer’s needs and not their preferences. If they abuse this authority they will risk being regulated, as they should be.
That argument, among many others, combines to form the justification that the providers say should be enough to allow them to have complete control over the traffic using their bandwidth. However, there seems to be more to this, perhaps some sort of ulterior motives. We’re all familiar with the wireless carrier’s lust for money, how could they stand to profit from keeping net neutrality out of their network? This all started to make sense when I stumbled up on this article at Ars Technica. Keep in mind, this article discusses a simple webinar, hosted by a company selling a solution, with an unknown number/type of attendants. The article makes no mention of any particular carrier hinting at the idea of possibly implementing this. However, if a company is selling this solution, there’s most likely a greedy provider market looking to use it. Get ready for…pay-per-view internet.
Allow me to explain. Allot and Openet, two names in the communications market, presented a plan for a solution that stands to give wireless providers access to a great deal of money at the cost and inconvenience of us, the consumer. This plan includes the option for wireless providers to charge a fee for the option of using various applications, that utilize the internet to obtain information, on their smartphones. So for instance, if you want to launch your Facebook app or the Amazon app on your phone, you would pay, in some way for that privilege. The presentation offers up a few different options for charging these fees, you could be charged a per Megabyte fee or a fee that grants you unlimited usage per month. This amount of this fee would be at the full discretion of the wireless carrier, at times choosing not to charge it at all as part of some sort of service bundle where you could choose a variety of apps to use at no cost while others would still carry a fee. Additionally, the carriers might strike up deals with the developers of these apps to pay the fee on the user’s behalf, ultimately this scenario would lead to some form of cost increase to the user. If any of this sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because this is exactly how the cable television providers operate, charging extra fees for access to “premium” channels.
Now the wireless carriers, like any corporation, is allowed to make money, that’s what a free market is all about. But the nickel-and-dime approach is shady if you ask me. As a customer with a data-plan on my phone, I already have paid for access to that bandwidth. This all goes back to you double-dipping again, and I’m tired of saying it. If I’ve paid for the bandwidth, why do I need to pay for it again when I want to use an app that uses that same bandwidth. Equally so, if you’re going to charge the developer so I can use the app freely, I may or may not see a difference but you’re still double-dipping.
This also opens the door for even more granular fee based access. If the providers try this, and think that it was successful, who’s to say they won’t then start charging for accessing different websites. Take Amazon for example, they’re a huge company and make tons of money, they provide an app for Android and iPhone that makes it a little easier and a little faster when accessing their site. For sake of argument let’s say they refuse to pay the wireless carrier for the consumers to use their app for free as that would result in them having to raise prices for those very same consumers. Well you know the consumers won’t be interested in having to pay to shop on Amazon, how stupid is that, it’s not Sam’s Club. It just so happens that Amazon also has a fairly decent mobile version of their site that behaves very similarly to the app. Now all those consumers will just use their browser and go straight to Amazon’s website to do their shopping. The wireless carrier seeing this migration, and not being happy with the loss of extra profits, decides to start making Amazon.com a site that requires a fee to access.
The creator’s of the internet couldn’t have possibly dreamed that their creation would end up being abused like this, but here we are with a company plugging some awful concept that is surely to get the carrier’s attention. This is just further proof that net neutrality needs to extend beyond physical connections and into wireless as well.
- Groups say US FCC proposal not real net neutrality (reuters.com)
- Wireless Carriers Pitch Dumb Idea to Avoid Being Dumb Pipes (gigaom.com)
- Wireless carriers may offer app-specific or time-of-day usage plans (intomobile.com)