My Federal Communication Conniption

The Political Problem

The President of the United States called for the FCC to reclassify ISPs under Title II of the Communications Act as “common carriers.”

Your telephone company is a common carrier. It is illegal for, say, Telephone Company A to degrade service quality for calls to your grandmother, who uses Telephone Company B, or charge you more to connect to Telephone Company B. 

What’s problematic is that FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, is avoiding Title II regulation. And as Wheeler was a former lobbyist for the telecommunications industry, President Obama knew that Wheeler would probably not be for reclassifying ISPs as common carriers when he appointed him chair of the FCC back in November of 2013. 

In fact, Wheeler is opposing Obama’s proposals. Naturally. Instead of putting the ISPs under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, he wants to classify them under the Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  However, courts have ruled that the FCC doesn’t have regulatory oversight of Section 706. 

So, the President publically says one should classify ISPs as common carriers, but took the action of appointing an FCC chairman who worked for the industry that the FCC regulates, and the FCC chairman publically says he supports network neutrality but won’t actually do anything to preserve it. 

So, basically, both have taken action against net neutrality while giving lip service to support it, and somehow in the Washington Press Narrative, President Obama and Chairman Wheeler are both “at odds.”

Now, one might consider that Obama appointed Wheeler as FCC chairman in order to appease the telecommunications companies before a crucial mid-term election, out of fear that they might dump millions of dollars into Republican coffers. Now that now that the mid-terms are over, Obama can appeal to his tech savvy base by saying what the FCC should do, even though he knows the FCC will do the opposite, because the people he appointed to it are against net neutrality. 

But that’s the politics of it. 

What is far more interesting is the network performance implications of this fight. 

The Network Performance Problem 

Last October 2013, right around the time that Comcast started “asking” Netflix to pay more for better network access, Comcast started decreasing the download speeds of Netflix. It was only after February of 2014, when Netflix and Comcast reached a business deal, that speeds on Comcast’s service started to reach the same service levels as Cox, Cablevision, and Google Fiber. 

So, here is the situation as we know it: A major ISP was willing and able to degrade performance for its customers in order to secure a competitive advantage. 

Here’s the problem. Business applications are relying more and more on external data. Custom web apps might draw from Salesforce.com, Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, and other sources. Degradation in service quality in any of those applications on any particular ISP can result in application performance slowdowns. Network neutrality, therefore, becomes a network performance issue.

Here’s the point where I tie it all into Packet Design’s products and services offerings, but I really don’t have a clue how to do that. See, the Route Explorer system is great for identifying the cause of various, often obscure, bottlenecks in application performance. But if Company A’s performance is being held for ransom by Acme ISP, then even if you can diagnose the problem, you are completely at the mercy of Acme ISP to fix it. 

Network engineers, service providers, administrators – all of us have enough to do to keep performance efficient without having to worry about people breaking stuff on purpose. We all know Washington doesn’t work, but why take that out on the network? 

[Boyko’s views do not necessarily represent those of the company.]