FCC tries to define net rule breach [Politico]
I’ve spent plenty of time on this blog discussing the FCC’s journey toward a net neutrality ruling. There has been detailed coverage of the various FCC agendas and hearings, as well as the various parties who have expressed their support or opposition to the policy.
One thing that hasn’t been determined through all of this back-and-forth is what truly constitutes a violation of the FCC’s net neutrality rules.
The FCC’s goals are pretty clear. They want to prevent ISPs from behavior that could hinder competition and innovation. What that behavior looks like, however, is not so clear. Why? Because no one really knows how to define all the theoretical bad things ISP's could do. Instead, the Commission wisely decided to provide ISP's with a rough idea of what they can and can't do and then to review behavior on an individual event basis.
Indeed, the first claim of violating net neutrality has already been filed against MetroPCS for allegedly unfairly capping usage of some applications in some of the provider’s pricing plans. MetroPCS then fired back by challenging the net neutrality regulations themselves in court.
But much more interesting was when a net neutrality claim was made against Comcast (though it never rose to the level of a formal complaint by Level3), one of Comcast's backbone providers. What happened was that Level3 altered its relationship with Netflix, resulting in a huge increase in traffic into Comcast's network. Level3 claimed that Comcast sought to unfairly improve its economic relationship with Level3 when the traffic flow changed.
Here's the real scoop. Most ISP/backbone agreements anticipate approximate relationships between inbound and outbound traffic. It has always been the industry standard to review those assumptions on a fairly regular basis and adjust the payments from one to the other accordingly. When Level3 and Netflix altered their distribution agreement, the balance between sending and receiving data between the Comcast network and the Level3 backbone was so dramatically changed that Comcast simply sought, in the normal course of business, to reset their fee structure with Level3.
Despite all the wild accusations, this was never about Comcast trying to block Netflix from Comcast's network; it was simply an attempt to have their existing economic relationship updated to reflect a significant change in usage patterns. And it's simply a fact that their acquisition of NBC couldn't have come at a better time giving a group of opportunists a great chance to try to take advantage.