2009 Year in Review: Net neutrality fight begins

The news: With a change of leadership at the White House we knew net neutrality was coming. And it came in like a lion. Almost the minute FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was sworn in, he jumped into action, publicly laying out plans less than three months later to implement net neutrality and open Internet regulations for telecom companies--both wireline and wireless.

In October, the FCC voted 5-0 to begin the rule-making process, further fueling the debate of whether the wireless industry even needs open access in the first place. Wireless executives say the industry is competitive enough. Big providers like Verizon and AT&T don't have a problem with net neutrality being applied to wired networks but they do on the wireless side because spectrum is a finite resource. Allowing any device, any application would create congestion problems on the network. Genachowski said the rules will take this problem into account.

AT&T has already acknowledged it is struggling to keep up with the data traffic on its network, thanks in most part to the popularity of the iPhone, which is the reason why it delayed offering MMS on the device and has indefinitely delayed tethering. In May, AT&T defended a network policy that prompted content placeshifting technology developer Sling Media to remove 3G access from the iPhone edition of its SlingPlayer Mobile video application, with the operator arguing the app would consume too much network capacity.

Why its significant: The FCC's actions on net neutrality could have significant implications for numerous wireless industry stakeholders. Net neutrality threatens the existing business models of operators. If Google Voice or Skype is used enmasse, such a trend would upend the voice cash cow operators current experience, despite the growth in data services.