FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the Commission’s process of developing new rules governing network neutrality will be expanded to include an investigation of how peering agreements affect Internet traffic.
Network neutrality rules have governed how ISPs manage traffic on their own networks, but leave other sources of traffic, network operators, CDNs, and ISPs to negotiate interconnects among themselves – peering agreements.
Wheeler said that a significant number of public comments clearly refer to peering issues, and not classic network neutrality.
The conflation of the two separate issues is rooted in the general public’s misunderstanding of how the Internet works, and the confusion is deliberately encouraged by companies such as Netflix and Google, who want peering to be free. This is the misunderstanding informs much of the public debate about network neutrality, including comedian John Oliver’s viral rant on the subject, in which he urged Internet trolls to deluge the FCC with comments.
Wheeler, in his announcement today, for the first time made a clear distinction between ISP networks and activity on the open Internet governed by peering agreements: “…there is another area of Internet access, and that is the exchange of traffic between ISPs and other networks and services. The recent disputes between Netflix and ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon have highlighted this issue.”
Consumers expect good service, he said, and peering activity affects that, Wheeler said, so, “Recently, at my direction, Commission staff has begun requesting information from ISPs and content providers. We have received the agreements between Comcast and Netflix and Verizon and Netflix. We are currently in the process of asking for others.
“To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating. We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I.”
Comcast (which got broiled by Oliver), quickly issued a statement supporting the process:
Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s VP Government Communications, wrote, “Internet traffic exchange on the backbone is part of ensuring that bits flow freely and efficiently and all actors across the system have a shared responsibility to preserve the smooth functioning and highly competitive backbone interconnection market. We welcome this review which will allow the Commission full transparency into the entire Internet backbone ecosystem and enable full education as to how this market works.”
Fitzmaurice reminded that Comcast has long published its peering policies.