WebRTC Expert Feature

January 15, 2014

The Impact of Net Neutrality Ruling on WebRTC

The U.S. Appeals Court struck down the 2011 FCC rules that all Internet traffic must be treated equally by Internet service providers.  Verizon challenged the regulations based on the FCC not having a congressional mandate to regulate the Internet.  The impact of the court's ruling may be significant, leading to tiered pricing models, and the virtual "blocking" of content and services that are not favored by the ISP.  While there is not yet direct evidence to support that this will change things, it may have a dramatic impact on certain services in the future. 

As WebRTC is dependent on getting a reasonable service delivery capability to enable quality real-time experiences, this ruling is of great interest to those of us in the WebRTC community.  A service provider could decide to relegate all UDP/WebRTC traffic to a low class of service, with explicit or random disruptions in the traffic.  Explicit disruptions could come though limiting the bandwidth available for those services in a specific plan.  Or disruptions could occur as the non-service provider real-time traffic is now afforded the class and regular congestion that causes random issues.  If real-time traffic is relegated to a low-level queue with dramatically reduced buffers, RED or other network processes may impact packet delivery.  If the user pays for a "guaranteed service", that traffic may be put into the higher level queues, albeit for a price.

At the Santa Clara WebRTC Conference & Expo, the topic of monetizing WebRTC was a session and one of the presenters discussed monetizing QoS and SLAs for new services like WebRTC.  It will be interesting to see if the service providers move in this direction or if there is an effort in Congress and the FCC (News - Alert) to resurrect the regulations in another form.

What is clear from this ruling is that the assumption that any Internet service or user has a "given right" to use the Internet in an equal/unconstrained way is not the current rule of the land.  While there are very good arguments about why the management of traffic and bandwidth, latency and packet loss in a structured way can optimize overall performance, this ruling opens the door to a wide variety of new pricing and delivery models, not all of which may be helpful for users of the services nor create competition or innovation in services.  The challenges of managing the competing interests of the service providers/ISPs, the consumers, businesses, the content providers and new applications and services will be significant.

At this point, unless there is an override at the Supreme Court or congressional action, net neutrality is not the rule in the U.S. today.  While it is clear that the ISPs firmly believe they need the capability to manage and price traffic to have a profitable business model, the impact on innovation may be significant if this eliminates the opportunity for next-generation services to be widely adopted without users paying for additional services from their service provider.  We all need to watch this space with interest.

Image via Shutterstock

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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