Nearly two years ago, the FCC outlined its rules for net neutrality. Notably absent were rules for wireless networks. There are several legitimate reasons that the same rules applied to wired networks can not apply to wireless networks. However, the same danger lies in leaving wireless networks unguarded against the whims of its administrators. As we move more and more towards a wireless dominated internet, those dangers will become more pronounced.
The importance of wireless data can not be understated. Facebook’s plummeting stock is a primary example. One of the reasons Facebook is taking a beating is because investors do not believe the company can properly monetize its mobile product. Investors are already punishing large companies that fail to monetize on the mobile front. When money talks, it is wise to listen.
Smartphones would have changed the internet landscape by themselves, but with tablets joining them on the mobile front there is no doubt that it will become at least on par with wired access. The quick emergence of products like the iPad and the Kindle Fire have many harking the end of the desktop era. While that may be premature, there is no doubt that these new platforms are going to command a large portion of the market place.
It is perfectly understandable that wireless networks can not be managed the same way that wired networks are. The technology is not quite good enough for wireless networks to run as smoothly and efficiently as wired networks do. A massive amount of infrastructure is needed if this goal is ever to be accomplished, and that is not an easy task to undertake.
Improving wireless internet infrastructure means building more towers. People are generally not happy with the number of towers that dot the landscape now. Red tape is also a factor, as it can take years to get approval to put up new towers. That will not suffice when wireless data traffic is growing at over 100% a year for the last several years.
We are going to need a massive investment in infrastructure in this country regardless of net neutrality rules. Demand for wireless is going to continue to grow for many years to come, and providers are not going to be able to let up. Data caps and throttling are understandable now as demand is far outpacing infrastructure growth. Eventually, demand will slow, and these practices will have to be addressed.
This is where allowing internet providers to regulate themselves becomes an issue. Self regulation usually does not end well for the consumer. Imagine allowing power plants and oil refineries to determine what chemicals they could pour into the air. Would they have the population’s best interest at heart when making that determination?
In the future when the infrastructure can match the demand, what will stop internet providers from picking winners and losers over their wireless networks? As conglomerates like Comcast gobble up content providers like NBC, a conflict of interest begins to emerge. There would be nothing from stopping one of the big wireless providers like AT&T or Verizon from scooping up a content provider and prioritizing its data speed over the network.
The internet community has had a good year in terms of influence in 2012. The wireless issue is one the community must keep a watchful eye on in the future. It is not a matter of if the service providers will abuse the system, but when. As wireless internet becomes the dominant or even default medium, the problem will become more pronounced.