The regulation protecting net neutrality met its demise early this month. Since then, activists, internet users, former regulators, and even some businesses have called on the FCC to act to restore the regulation.
For the moment, though, the FCC is planning to address any issues that may arise on a case-by-case basis, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler explained at a conference.
Wheeler was asked specifically about peering agreements and disputes. A peering arrangement allows two companies to work together to allocate bandwidth and move data around. If the internet is a series of tubes, then the peering port is a valve: only so much flow can go in before things get clogged. If more traffic is coming by than can move through that port, then an ISP is supposed to open more ports so that traffic can pass through freely.
When peering agreements are not honored, or when an ISP fails to open the peering ports it needs to as others reach capacity, then customers see their services begin to stop working.
The issue is not merely theoretical. In 2013, when the net neutrality rule was still in effect, one of Netflix’s largest bandwidth providers accused Verizon of allowing their peering connections to degrade, which in turn provided customers with poor streaming service.
Wheeler gave assurance that peering is an issue he is aware of and wants the agency to “stay on top of the issue.” However, he did not provide specifics. As the Washington Post reports, he insisted that the FCC had the interests of both consumers and business innovators in mind:
We are not reticent to say, ‘Excuse me, that’s anti-competitive. Excuse me, that’s self dealing. Excuse me, this is consumer abuse. … I’m not smart enough to know what comes next [in innovation]. But I do think we are capable of saying, ‘That’s not right.’ And there’s no hesitation to do that.
Case-by-case findings can certainly help consumers after a company has already been wronging them. As for preventing those wrongs in the first place, it remains to be seen how the FCC will choose to act.