Nokia Networks: Necessary network management still possible under proposed net neutrality rules

The FCC's proposed new rules on net neutrality drew fiery protest from the likes of  AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), but whether the rules go through or not, operators' equipment vendors ultimately will have to play by the rules or risk consequences.

The FCC so far hasn't shared all of the details in the 332-page report that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated to his fellow commissioners last week. In a statement released Friday blasting President Barack Obama's plan to regulate the Internet, Commissioner Ajit Pai said he's disappointed the plan is not being shared in its entirety with the American people.

Still, the FCC has released some general points in the proposal, including rules for no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritization. There's a provision for "reasonable network management," whereby the commission's proposed standard would take into account the particular engineering attributes of the technology involved--whether it's fiber, DSL, cable, unlicensed wireless, mobile or another network medium.

FierceWirelessTech asked some wireless industry vendors for comment on the proposed new rules. Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) said it could not comment and Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) did not respond to a request for comment.

According to Nokia Networks (NYSE:NOK), the FCC's proposed rules appear to prohibit only paid prioritization, not reasonable network management that might be used to ensure a particular application or service highly sensitive to latency or packet loss will work as intended. "This might include the use of caching, assigning a greater amount of resources on a non-discriminatory basis (for example to emergency communications) and limited throttling," Nokia said in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech.

"In the latter case, the FCC's proposed rules appear to prevent throttling based on application, service or content, but do not appear to prevent non-discriminatory throttling during particularly congested periods," Nokia said. "Vendors also continue to work on ways to improve both performance and capacity of networks including through the use of small cells. While Nokia does not agree with the commission's apparent decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service or to treat wireless under the same regulatory rubric as wire line services, we believe sufficient flexibility is maintained to allow needed network management."

Indeed, the FCC's fact sheet says the network practice must be primarily used for and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management--and not commercial--purpose. For example, the commission said, a provider can't cite reasonable network management to justify reneging on its promise to supply a customer with "unlimited" data. 

By way of background, Nokia said it spent considerable time interacting with the FCC to demonstrate the need for the net neutrality rules it adopts to not just protect consumers and edge providers from discriminatory conduct, "but also to be a source of value creation throughout the entire mobile broadband ecosystem."

Nokia recommended that the commission preserve the flexibility to offer specialized services and other forms of differentiated service subject to transparency and non-discrimination safeguards. "The ecosystem is moving to 5G, which will have as principle goals the reduction of latency to less than 1 millisecond, huge advancements in throughput and coverage, and the ability to support all previous generations of wireless technology," Nokia told FierceWirelessTech. "This future will include billions of devices and sensors using wireless networks, often with the need for extreme precision and reliability."

Maintaining the ability to ensure adequate priority for things like medical telemetry and autonomous driving is a key technology need, the company added. "We are just beginning to establish the research and investment needs to enable this future," Nokia said. "It is unclear what direct impact the prohibition on paid-prioritization and other forms of service quality assurance will have on potential innovation in these important areas."

The commission appears to believe that there is "sufficient value in the mobile broadband ecosystem to guarantee that investment from carriers and robust R&D by equipment vendors" will continue unabated, Nokia said. "Whether this is true will depend on the specifics of the commission's limits on prioritization, consumer-focused differentiation and specialized services. If the restrictions leave no room for innovation in pricing and service tiering, then there will likely be an overall impact to innovation."

CTIA and wireless carriers have long argued that carriers should have greater flexibility to manage their networks than wired ISPs because of spectrum constraints and inherent differences in how their networks are architected. Interestingly, the FCC cites the wireless industry in its fact sheet as a "success story" in how applying Title II regulation can lead to growth and investment. Fewer provisions will apply to ISPs than were applied to wireless carriers, the commission said.

For more:
- see this FCC fact sheet
- see Wheeler's remarks

Sound off: Reactions to the FCC's new net neutrality rules
Complete coverage: Net neutrality for wireless and wireline carriers

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