|By Esmeralda Swartz||
|March 9, 2014 01:00 PM EDT||
The cable companies and telcos who dominate the U.S. market for Internet access won a victory when they succeeded in having the heart of the FCC's ruling on net neutrality struck down. Now, for the first time legally, those companies can both block content and offer fast lane services at their discretion.
I have mentioned several times in my recent series of blogs that the eventual outcome of this decision may not be as obvious as we first thought: it may be less bad than network neutrality advocates feared, and rather less wonderful than some of the anti-neutrality advocates hoped. In previous blogs, I mentioned that neither the device vendors nor the edge providers will sit by passively and let the carrier's Internet service providers (ISPs) call all the shots. To really understand this, it is worth reviewing other aspects of the Internet as they are actually evolving, as compared to the somewhat static model apparently envisioned by the courts, the FCC and some of the carriers.
In the early days of the Internet, it was easy to conceive of this new technology in terms that were familiar from the old world of cable TV, broadcasting and even newspapers. Corporations owned and managed content. Users somewhat passively consumed it and paid for the service in one way or another, either by subscription or by buying products that were advertised. This model of users, access providers and edge providers is the model in which the net neutrality debate was founded. Access providers in the middle want to be able to charge both ends to carry the bits. On the other hand, users want to be free to access any edge-provider, and edge-providers want to be able to offer their goods to all users. Clearly, whichever way the decision went, someone was going to be unhappy.
But this model, reasonable as it might have been when the Internet was younger, is overlaid with layers of complexity today. That complexity means all decisions made by ISPs on blocking and favoring will be made much more difficult than they would have been years ago.
Today we are immersed in an Internet in which user-created content, social networking, mobility, IP voice/video services, location services and more are all blurring the line between content provider and content consumer. The notions of the Internet of things and the Internet of agents do not fit neatly into the user/edge-provider format either. The traditional static model of Internet business is becoming inadequate. Today's Internet is dynamic, with every edge-point potentially a consumer, provider and processor of content, sometimes all at the same time. Unless all ISPs choose the same portfolio of edge providers to favor (or block), we can expect to see holes in some places where we have grown to expect services.
What might happen in a world where we have a patchwork of widely differing capabilities and offerings from one ISP to the next? In my next blog I'll get into some hypothetical, albeit extreme examples to help paint the picture of why this is such a polarizing topic for both sides of the fence. Follow us on Twitter to make sure you don't miss it!