Much of the glamour of technology today rests on the amazing things one can do on the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission plays a big role in deciding how affordable and accessible those wonders will be for Americans.
Case in point: Internet service providers are imposing usage caps and pricing tiers based on the amount of data their customers use. They say these measures help ease network congestion and fund additional investment in infrastructure.
But these measures promise to crush the business models of streaming-media companies like Netflix and Hulu, which claim the measures only serve to stifle innovation and bilk customers. These companies claim that some of these ISPs–some of which also operate cable systems or cellular networks–favor their own content over those of Internet-based competitors.
This year could be a significant one for Internet access issues. A ruling is expected in a case in which the Federal Communications Commission is defending its “open Internet rules” before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. The FCC argues that the rules have been a boon for investment in both Internet companies and wired and wireless infrastructure.
Some speculate that the FCC will lose, because the D.C. court previously ruled that the FCC lacked authority to stop Comcast Corp. from blocking bandwidth-hogging applications on its broadband network.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced legislation last year that would require the FCC to intervene so that data caps were intended only to relieve network congestion. And in February the FCC proposed increasing by over one-third the amount of spectrum available to unlicensed wireless devices. The measure is designed to relieve congestion on public Wi-Fi networks and encourage innovation in wireless devices. Previous unlicensed spectrum has made possible innovations such as cordless phones and garage door openers, The New York Times notes.