Net neutrality and how to keep the internet open for innovation
The debate over net neutrality goes way back. In significant ways, it reaches all the way to the early 1980s, even before I spent nearly seven years at the FCC between 1997 and 2004. We’ve been deeply involved at Ericsson in the current debate for almost a decade now, and we have consistently supported a framework for net neutrality that gives people access to the content, applications, and services they want, while at the same time promoting continued investment, experimentation, differentiation, and innovation.
Not all traffic is created equal
But it is also a fact that not all traffic is created equal. The open internet must permit operators to deliver differentiated user experiences.
For instance, traffic from autonomous vehicles and remote health care applications need to be prioritized, protected from high-bandwidth activities such as downloading movies. Similarly, the communications of first responders should be, and in many countries already is, prioritized over other traffic.
Relevance in a 5G future
The notion of treating every byte of data the same as every other byte lacks relevance in the 5G future. This includes the ability to match different services with different levels of access—a concept known as network slicing. One 5G network “slice” can be used to provide smart meters with a high-reliability data service, but with relatively low speeds, while another slice can provide the high speeds and low latency required for augmented reality gaming.
Our vision necessarily includes the freedom for operators to manage their networks to assure that their users receive the quality and access that they have demanded. This includes not only big business, however, but all users, who will demand high quality services, regardless of whether other traffic is prioritized differently in different network slice, for instance.
The highly competitive nature of the mobile services marketplace warrants limited regulation. Wireless is proof that under a “light touch” regulatory approach, the internet can thrive. Until 2015, in the absence of strict net neutrality regulation in the U.S., wireless competition grew, usage surged, and prices dropped. The app economy exploded and wireless broadband moved from being a niche service to a primary means of access. All the while, operators increased the openness of their wireless data networks. The “walled garden” approach to wireless data that existed in the early 2000s was breached for good.
Checks and balances
The new rules also do not allow service providers to go unchecked. There are transparency requirements, for which providers must disclose what they are doing in the way of network management. And the rules restore the Federal Trade Commissions’s authority to take enforcement action against unfair acts or practices.
If the new rules go into effect in January, this will likely not be the end of the story, as proven by the events of recent years. This back and forth from court decisions and changes in FCC leadership highlights the importance of Congress stepping in with definitive legislation. Without this, we face uncertainty about whether the rules will remain in place or not. And that is a real threat to innovation.
To read more about our take on net neutrality, please read our 2015 report: