This Sunday Game of Thrones starts its 7th Season. This has reminded me of the change in tone at the FCC. The new administration has brought a new viewpoint to the Iron Throne as it survey’s the Communications Industry Landscape. I want to talk about a couple of the challenges along this line and then be clear about what I think should happen.
DSL, Cable and Fiber in the general case can have multiple networks running over the same medium. They do this by using different parts of the frequency spectrum to run different services. DSL is the simplest case of this and the spectrum from 0 – 4KHz is used for voice. The rest of the spectrum (and it varies based on the technology) is used for Broadband Data. This is similar to having many radio stations sharing the air to deliver different music, news and talk. How this spectrum is used is not part of the debate. What we will talk about is the usage of the Broadband Data part of the spectrum. You can see immediately there are gaps in what we are going to discuss, for good or ill.
The question that really drove the Net Neutrality debate is this part about “Fast Lanes” or in Communications parlance – parts of the traffic with a Higher Quality of Service. This is very standard throughout many networks today regardless of the technology used. Within that Broadband Data, our current rules have that function unavailable. That was the entire debate over the last few years. Smaller companies argued that they might be able to deliver competent services over the network if you were allowed to pay for better service. Note, that video in Cable and in Fiber often runs outside the Broadband Data part of the spectrum and thus can have whatever Fast Lanes it likes. That is why you don’t see buffering from Cable offerings.
The flip side of this is whether the very high performance video – 4K and 8K TV – will actually work at scale as deployed without a “Fast Lane”. There is no obligation for ISPs to make this work. It will cost them a lot of money to do so at large scale so it might take a long time to get there from here. What would be the recourse then? We can’t make them build new networks. It is pretty clear that nobody is about to install a 3rd or 4th competitive network (or it already would have happened). By the way, I believe that it will be too much work to create “Fast Lanes” for it to be worth it. Nobody is paying more without a guarantee. And meeting a guarantee is a lot more than where we are today.
In the long run, I think the bandwidth providers will fall further and further behind their ability to apply strict rules and make them stick. The best thing we can do on this is NOTHING. If predatory practices happen, then crack down on them with all speed. I am much more concerned about deploying better infrastructure more broadly.
So watch Game of Thrones whether it is on your OTT service like Sling TV or on your Cox Cable and have a great day!
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