Anyone who believes that FCC-mandated net neutrality could or should be applied to wireless networks ought to read Mike Dano’s recent article at FierceWireless.  Dano’s focus is an FCC filing earlier this year by T-Mobile which described in detail the damage caused by a poorly designed instant messaging app that pinged the network with substantial frequency creating signaling problems:

“These signaling problems not only caused network overload problems that affected all [local] broadband users; it also ended up forcing [a reengineering of the radio architecture] to address this never-before-seen signaling issue.”

According to the filing, this one application caused an increase in data use of as much as 1,200 percent on a single device.

To be clear, I am not casting stones.  We have been on the frontlines of the mobile broadband data and app revolution, working and investing furiously to keep pace with the exploding demand for wireless data services.  But this experience shows once again how the advocated “all apps are created equal” regulatory straightjacket, which doesn’t even make sense for the wired web, is spectacularly ill-suited for wireless networks.

Even pro-Net neutrality advocate Robert Cringley has acknowledged that a handful of Slingbox streams are enough to overtake the capacity of a cell tower.   

Given the unique ways in which wireless networks are being taxed by new applications, it is absolutely critical that the Commission not apply net neutrality requirements to any spectrum other than the open access restrictions it has placed on the 700 MHz upper C-Block.  When the Commission imposed broad open access requirements on C-Block licensees, it did so with the explicit understanding that such requirements could have adverse consequences.  That is why the Commission wisely decided that it would only impose these untested restrictions on one spectrum block and in a way that would allow everyone – carriers, regulators, Congress and investors alike – to see how the restrictions would actually work in real time on a real network.  It is also why participants at auction placed a much lower value on the restricted C-Block licenses than they did on the unrestricted licenses elsewhere in the band.

From our perspective, neutrality rules are based on an idealized version of the Internet – an online experience in which data traffic never spikes, malware and DOS attacks are nonexistent, and consumers all use about the same amount of data in the same way at the same place every day.  Others disagree.  So be it: The FCC has rules already in place to test the neutrality hypothesis with licensees that have embraced the experiment and assumed the added risks and possible costs of operating with these restrictions in exchange for a very steep discount on the price of the spectrum.

In the meantime, mobile data use in America continues to surge.  And as CTIA reported this month, even amid the country’s difficult economic picture, wireless data demand has spurred mobile carriers to expand their already significant CapEx commitments by 8 percent year over year.  And these investments mean more jobs.

Everyone agrees that wireless users, like their wired brethren, deserve choice and freedom online. They also deserve the kind of protections that Chairman Henry Waxman proposed earlier this fall, which were endorsed not only by us but also unions and consumer groups.  But we also know that one rogue app can cause major disruptions in ways not contemplated or considered by wireless net neutrality rules, and  demonstrates why all in the wireless ecosystem, including applications, have a responsibility to use resources efficiently.  The C-Block experiment will be instrumental in matching the openness theories being espoused today with actual network realities.

Share this