On the Circuit
Last month a many-decades-long struggle hit an inflection point. On Jan. 14, the D.C. Circuit Court determined that the FCC has no authority to enforce network neutrality rules, as service providers are not identified as “common carriers.” The ruling did give the FCC other oversight powers and it’s a complex topic that will continue to be rehashed, litigated, and politicized further.
On the last page of this issue, my colleague David Keene distills the situation as it stands now, and this is something we will continue to bring up. Here are some additional concerns that make net neutrality relevant to pro AV.
You’ll see a lot of media discussion about what broadband providers will do now that they finally have more control over their pipes. Certainly they will develop ways to charge more, potentially with service tiers. You’ll read a lot about what this will mean to content—entertainment, news, etc.—and the power carriers will have to prioritize one content provider over another and segregate the Internet into those who can pay to get their content seen and those who cannot.
More importantly to us, questions of net neutrality create uncertainty for systems that rely on browser-based UIs or IP content delivery—things like cloud-based videoconferencing systems, IPTV, distance learning, video-on-demand, online church ministries, digital signage, and even browser-based remote diagnostics and maintenance sites that you may create to access and troubleshoot systems remotely.
The speed of those services—whether a UI or content loads fast or slow, or at all—could depend who is willing to pay to guarantee quality of service. It won’t be just the pipe that matters, it will be the priority, as dictated by the carrier. URLs could end up with such low priority that they will be unusable as infrastructure. Your videoconference might have so much latency that it can’t function or your IP-based control system might fall out of sync, unless you or your client can pay to guarantee the service. Your cloud-based partner may not be able to pay for sufficient priority to guarantee service downstream to your end-user. How do you write that into an response to an RFP or a bid? How much will it cost and will it keep changing over the life of the AV system? How do you warranty for that? IP-based AV applications could cost more money to run, maybe too much more.
Of course paying for quality of service may ultimately be better than taking potluck on whether the Internet is super busy or not on a given day. But it does potentially introduce a layer of cost that will particularly affect those smaller, innovative offerings that currently rely on the free Internet and equal priority for every packet. How will you anticipate quality of service costs and factor them into your systems and business plans? Soon enough, the elephant in the room will be asking.
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