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Net neutrality, mobile data caps, and the future of Internet radio

FCC LogoThe Federal Communications Commission has opened up a new conversation on net neutrality in light of an Appeals Court’s mid-January strikedown of some of the agency’s Open Internet rules. “We establish a new docket within which to consider how the Commission should proceed in light of the court’s guidance in the Verizon v. FCC opinion,” a public notice released on Wednesday explains. I hope that discussion extends to data caps and their potential impact on Internet radio.

Before getting to that subject, a quick backgrounder: The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit opined that the FCC’s statutory justification for its regulations barring ISP discrimination against “edge providers”—pretty much anybody who offers audio, video, and similar services on the Net—was bogus (which I think it was). But the agency could avail itself of another section of the Telecommunications Act, the court ruled, which classifies Internet Service Providers as telecommunications services.

So back to the drawing board, says FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “We will carefully consider how, consistent with the court opinion, we can ensure that edge providers are not unfairly blocked, explicitly or implicitly, from reaching consumers, as well as ensuring that consumers can continue to access any lawful content and services they choose,” he declared in a press statement accompanying the new Open Internet docket.

I listen to a lot of Internet radio on my smartphone, especially in my car. It is linked via bluetooth to my stereo, so up and down the freeway I’m listening to SoundCloud music channels, community and college stations via TuneIn, and fun podcasts like “Welcome to Night Vale” via Podbay. I keep track of how much data these applications use. Due to the peculiarities of my work schedule, I commute about four hours on various state highways each week. I don’t look at mobile video  much. But despite that, it appears that if my job required driving every day, I’d blow my current mobile data ceiling from time to time, largely due to the additional consumption of Internet audio.

Should this issue be placed at the doorway of my ISP? Are audio edge providers “implicitly blocked” when consumers think twice about enjoying mobile Internet radio too often? AT&T has a plan to let edge companies pay to “sponsor” consumer data use, so that using their application won’t count towards your data limit. Would this constitute the kind of implicit “priority access” rent seeking that the Commission says is out of bounds—an express lane for content providers able to pay?

I am not sure, but I would like to see that conversation happen on this new Open Internet docket. Here is the RSS for the proceeding. Look to the top left and you’ll see links to make long and short comments. The docket number is 14-28. Or, of course, feel free to offer a comment below.

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One Response to Net neutrality, mobile data caps, and the future of Internet radio

  1. Brad Hill February 20, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    Matthew — good post. I think that sponsored access to an edge service *does* constitute a type of priority access that the FCC wants to forbid. However, I also think it would be popular with consumers. The mass market doesn’t care much about Internet politics or infrastructure fairness.

    One interesting point in the FCC’s new regulatory attempt — the agency will possibly argue for the power to overturn laws that stop cities from building broadband WiFi for their residents. On a local level, municipal WiFi would inject an interesting counterpoint to data-plan delivery of entertainment.

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