If anyone just swallowed hard after reading that headline, rest assured you're not alone in your nervous gulping. “Changes in Internet access” can be a frightening thing, because these seldom mean “more bandwidth and faster speeds.” New word from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) could be a mixed bag, though there are reasons to be hopeful.
We start with the good news: a new proposal represents some substantial cost savings for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), but comes with the cost of plans to revamp the business-data market in general. Reports note that the plan could be approved as early as sometime this month. With business data plans a rapidly changing market, the FCC's capability to regulate has proven somewhat stymied due to that sheer rapidity; the FCC has been trying to address issues in the business data market as far back as April, word from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler (News - Alert) notes.
Further, the FCC is also looking to address issues of privacy in broadband subscriptions, a development that broadband providers aren't exactly happy about. The new rules would establish stronger controls at the broadband provider level than are currently leveled against sites like Facebook (News - Alert) and Google, who have their interactions regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) instead. Under the new FCC rules, Internet service providers (ISPs) would required to get permission from consumers before sharing browsing data with advertisers and third parties. This would naturally put a crimp in ISP earnings, which would likely translate into higher costs to consumers, less infrastructure development, or likely both.
Reports suggest that the “opt-out” might be connected to a new expense, and any plans that are discounted due to information sharing would have to disclose as much, leading to “pay for privacy” concepts. The FCC does note that “consumers should not be forced to choose between paying inflated prices and maintaining their privacy,” though the FCC's own rules seem to require just such a choice.
So the news is a mixed bag out of the FCC, with more privacy potentially afoot, but more costs likewise in play, and a potential drop in SMB data prices, though enterprise users will likely continue paying through the nose. It would be easy to just throw up one's hands at the entire mess and declare it just that, a mess, but it really doesn't help the matter much. While ISP calls for revenue protection are important—businesses that don't make money don't tend to stick around, and people need that connectivity—these calls often fall on the deaf ears of people who can't even get broadband access as ISPs insist that such efforts aren't sufficiently profitable.
Broadband connectivity in the United States and beyond still has its share of problems. Fixing these won't be simple as it requires a balance of several different interests at the same time. The recent moves the FCC's taking may help, but may do almost as much harm as good in the end.
Edited by Maurice Nagle