Monday, December 13, 2010

The FCC, Wireless, and Net Neutrality

In a recent Ars Technica piece one of the FCC Commissioners, Clyburn, is quoted as insisting on coverage of wireless as well as wired. The piece states:

We're about ten days and counting from the Federal Communications Commission issuing an Order with net neutrality rules, but one of three Democrats on the FCC who supports the idea now says that the draft on the table might not go far enough. That would be Mignon Clyburn, who told the Practicing Law Institute's annual telecommunications summit that she "still has many questions" about the proposal, particularly whether it adequately covers wireless broadband. 

"Do we have a consensus item in front of us?" Clyburn asked out loud on Thursday. "I think we are pretty close. But my focus over the coming days will be to ensure that we are thinking through the implications of the wireless piece of the item. While I recognize that there are distinctions between wired and wireless networks, I think it is essential that our wireless networks—those of the present and future—grow in an open way just as our wired ones have."

Let's explore a few issues here that the good Commissioner may have failed to understand, after all it is just an FCC Commissioner.

First, for the most part, wireless operators paid a hefty price, billions and billions, for the right to build systems and the law under which they did it was the PCS rubric that in effect allowed them to build and sell anything as long as it was wireless. So we are now creating new law and applying it ex post facto. Seem to me the Constitution prohibits that somewhere, but alas it is the FCC again! The DC Courts will just shut them down.

Second, the operators then spent billions and continue to do so building the network, always trying to stay just a little ahead of the bow wave in demand, and now the good Commissioner wants to push the demands even farther.

Third, there is that little nit, the Shannon Laws, which say you cannot put 10 lbs in a 5 lb bag. Simply put, in the old days we had bandwidth efficiency of say 1 bps/Hz, and now with 4G and OFDM we get about 7 bps/Hz. But that is near the Shannon limit. There is a limit with given bandwidth, just multiple bandwidth by bandwidth efficiency and you get the carrying capacity, law of nature, you cannot mandate any more, period! It is not as if you can lay more fiber, it is just bandwidth.

So what is this open stuff anyway. About 4 years ago I wrote a paper on Net Neutrality and it simply stated that one should not select packets on the basis of the source or destination. That is a packet is neutral. However it in no way delimited control over flow of packets on an equitable basis or charging for excess usage or blocking if usage exceeded capacity. For a while I thought it was only Comcast who wanted to control packets based upon their content, but alas it looks like it is also the Government!