A wireless telecom firm is calling for open wireless access and a 'nondiscriminatory Internet,' contending that the Internet's future is mobile and should be open to both established firms and entrepreneurial start-ups.
Smartcomm LLC, a Phoenix, Arizona-based wireless communications consulting company, recently submitted its perspective to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on how best to achieve a competitive mobile Internet. Smartcomm contends that to ensure
economic competition, freedom of speech and to advance public policy considerations, the mobile Internet should not be impeded by either governmental regulations or oligopolistic telecommunications companies.
The FCC is soliciting input on whether its net neutrality principles of nondiscrimination should apply to mobile Internet service, so plenty is at stake, with some convinced that, access to the mobile Internet is now seriously threatened, putting very basic rights of freedom of speech, press and access to information in jeopardy.
At the core the debate is network neutrality: the idea that all Internet traffic and access is treated equally and without restriction. Smartcomm's release quotes Columbia Law School professor and net neutrality supporter, Tim Wu commenting that: "Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites and platforms equally."
The FCC is also seeking industry perspectives on the controversial topic of telecommunication providers providing faster digital service in exchange of higher fees and/or tiered access pricing structures. In August, Verizon and Google proposed a scenario in which consumers
would have an open "wired" Internet, but with significant exclusions for wireless broadband. This proposal would allow carriers to charge content companies more money for faster access and possibly block certain services from reaching customers at all.
Google and Verizon's proposal drew both supporters and critics, with the former, including large telecom companies like AT&T, supportive, but other stakeholders such as Facebook opposing the concept of "fast lanes" for speedier Web experiences in exchange for higher access fees which the dissenters contend would undermine competition and restrict access to certain content and applications, essentially creating a dynamic of first and second class Internet citizens.
Smartcomm notes that the growth of mobile communications and smartphones has been, and will continue to be, on a rocket-like trajectory, straining wireless networks that were not designed for or prepared for the wholesale adaption of smartphone and iPad or e-tablet
technology. Morgan Stanley's "Mobile Internet Report" is cited, predicting that over the next three to four years, Internet traffic on mobile devices will increase by a factor of more than 50x, with industry growth providing many entrepreneurial opportunities that could be stifled if large telecommunication companies are allowed to hold an oligopoly on wireless access.
Smartcomm, in its comments to the FCC, notes it has "a keen interest in a robust and nondiscriminatory Internet." Smartcomm adds in its comments: "Critically as Americans increasingly depend on wireless connections to access Internet content and applications for both business and entertainment, the Commission should reject any proposal to exempt wireless services from open Internet protections."
Smartcomm CEO Carole Downs says she and her company are urging the FCC to rule that wireless device access deserves the full panoply of net neutrality protections, or else risk leaving a majority of users without access to the open Internet. "This is a critical issue facing our industry," Downs observes. "Users want a single device and a single bill for all their mobile communication needs. Without roaming rights for their data service outside their home region, users will understandably migrate to those few providers that are able to offer a nationwide data network. Start-ups and innovative service providers would be left serving niche populations in relatively few markets."
Currently, there are two ways to regulate broadband communications an open access approach which many countries around the world have adopted and a facilities-based competition approach akin to the way the U.S. regulates broadband. Smartcomm and Downs suggest open access encourages fair pricing and quality service and support an environment
"The Internet should be neutral," Downs maintains. "Net neutrality is a founding principle of the Internet and creates a level playing field - for both telecommunications providers as well as consumers. There is no issue in the communications industry more important than how we
choose to regulate mobile broadband. This affects everyone."