FCC chairman weighs-in on width versus length debate

It wasn’t so many years ago, remember, when AT&T (the old AT&T, the U. S. national telephone monopoly) owned the phone wire in your walls. You put the wire there, or your builder did, and you certainly paid for it, but once dial tone filled the lines those lines became the physical property of Ma Bell and you couldn’t legally touch them. Everyone longing for the bad old days should remember when you couldn’t touch your own phone lines under penalty of law. Today or tomorrow, we’re told, the FCC will vote under the guise of net neutrality to re-instill some of those old ways of doing business, at least for wireless networks.

Well it won’t work.

The short story of what’s happening at the FCC is that the agency is trying to grab power over the Internet and to make that happen is paying-off any number of constituencies. With everything eventually going onto the net as a data service, the FCC wants to avoid irrelevancy, so this is how they are doing it with the help of Google and Verizon. Net neutrality partisans appear willing to accept more oversight if it comes with guarantees against packet throttling. And phone companies are willing to accept broader restrictions if they can still throttle or introduce tiered charges on their only networks that matter anymore — wireless.

These new rules, then, establish three fundamental ideas: 1) the FCC has regulatory authority over the U. S. Internet; 2) Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can’t discriminate between data types like video, voice, or torrents on their wired networks, but; 3) wireless ISP’s can discriminate between data types and applications as long as they aren’t giving preferential treatment to their own competing products or services.

So T-Mobile, just as an example, can limit or create a surcharge for Hulu, but only if it isn’t offering a service of its own that is competitive with Hulu and for which it doesn’t make such a surcharge.

The theory behind this rule is that wireless networks are a more bandwidth-limited resource than wired networks.

While the new FCC rules allow tiered pricing and limited packet filtering for wireless networks, they do so with the loud (and I think fairly legitimate) argument that competition will work to mitigate any telco abuses. There are nearly always three or more wireless network providers in any area and those mobile providers that punish their customers will be punished in turn by the loss of those customers to more enlightened network operators.

But to my way of thinking it really doesn’t matter, because those who would put limits on the Internet really don’t understand how the Internet works.

Look for shortly to appear what I’m calling the Trojan App, a hybrid mobile application that doesn’t exist yet but certainly will within hours or days of the new rules going into effect. The Trojan App is a legitimate mobile application that performs multiple functions, at least one of which is to circumvent the new wireless rules.

Here’s what I mean. Maybe you saw the story a couple of days ago about technology being brought to market that would enable mobile phone companies to charge Facebook users by the page for access. Under the new rules a mobile carrier can do that, no problem. But because that mobile network offers its own voice service (they all do) under the new rules they can’t similarly restrict Skype or Google Voice or any of the dozens or hundreds of Voice-over-IP third-party services out there. So what’s to keep Skype or Google or Yahoo or iChat or MrVoIP from offering a mobile version of its service that includes a free gateway to Facebook?


These are perfectly legitimate applications that are protected from throttling by virtue of their competing with a core service of the ISP, yet in this instance they will have gained a secondary function of acting as a Virtual Private Network link to an otherwise-regulated service like Facebook.

It’s a digital loophole.

Some might argue this simply won’t happen but they’ll be wrong. That’s because there is a long and successful tradition of using functional VPNs to accomplish such ends on the Internet. That’s how I watch Top Gear. But even more importantly the major players will do it because they’ll be forced into it by the minor players.

I could set-up in the cloud overnight a VoIP or some other qualifying service like mail or chat or video streaming. If I add a Facebook gateway to my new service and Yahoo doesn’t to theirs, well Yahoo loses.

Okay, maybe Yahoo isn’t the best example, given their decided lack of common sense for the past decade or so, but you get my point. Skype would lose. Google would lose. Microsoft would lose. And you know they won’t stand for that.

The Internet — even the wireless Internet — is a living thing that will optimize itself around any obstruction.

Resistance is futile.