Should net neutrality rules apply equally to wireless, wireline carriers?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently engaged in an effort to rewrite its net neutrality rules, which require Internet service providers to treat all traffic on their networks equally.

The FCC undertook the review after a U.S. appeals court in January threw out the rules because the agency treated Internet service providers like heavily regulated utilities rather than less regulated information service providers.

As part of the rewrite, the FCC decided to reexamine how wireless networks and carriers are treated under the net neutrality rules. In mid-May, the commission voted to approve a draft of the rewritten net neutrality rules and asked for public comment, which is open until Sept. 10.

Internet companies are backing the move to amend the net neutrality rules to ensure wireline and wireless networks are treated the same.

"The distinction between wireless and wireline is certainly not the same as it was... The enforceable net neutrality rules should apply equally, whether you use the Internet on your mobile or home broadband," Michael Beckerman, head of the Internet Association, tells Reuters. "There will be differences in terms of network management, but at the end of the day, the same fundamental principles ... need to apply to the mobile world," he adds.

Under the previous 2010 rules both fixed and wireless Internet providers could not block access to legal websites, with exclusions for reasonable network management, explains Reuters. But wireline providers faced an additional requirement that they could not "unreasonably discriminate" against legal web traffic or apps, while wireless providers were only prohibited from blocking apps that competed with their calling services, the newswire explains.

Wireless carriers oppose any revision to the 2010 net neutrality rules when it comes to their treatment. "The FCC already acknowledged the unique nature of wireless, specifically the technical and operational challenges our industry faces, including the need to... actively manage networks to provide high quality service to a customer base that is constantly on the go," Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO of wireless trade group CTIA, tells Reuters.

One senior FCC official who did not want to be identified tells the newswire that the treatment of wireless will be a "topic that will have big resonance among the commissioners: why should wireless be treated differently than wireline in terms of net neutrality."

While it seems reasonable to treat wireline and wireless networks carriers the same when it comes to net neutrality rules for the Internet, there might be less to the controversy than meets the eye. Mobile users are much more likely to use their devices to download apps than to the surf the web.

According to the latest stats from Flurry, 86 percent of time users spend on mobile devices is on mobile apps, compared with only 14 percent of the time on mobile web.

So mobile users might have settled the issue regardless of what the FCC ultimately decides. - Fred