NetNeutrality vs. limiting FaceTime

In response to my tweets/blogs against NetNeutrality, people have asked: what about these items? In this post, I debunk the fourth item.

The issue the fourth item addresses is how AT&T restrict the use of Apple’s FaceTime on its network back in 2012. This seems a clear NetNeutrality issue.
But here’s the thing: the FCC allowed these restrictions, despite the FCC’s “Open Internet” order forbidding such things. In other words, despite the graphic’s claims it “happened without net neutrality rules”, the opposite is true, it happened with net neutrality rules.
The FCC explains why they allowed it in their own case study on the matter. The short version is this: AT&T’s network couldn’t handle the traffic, so it was appropriate to restrict it until some time in the future (the LTE rollout) until it could. The issue wasn’t that AT&T was restricting FaceTime in favor of its own video-calling service (it didn’t have one), but it was instead an issue of “bandwidth management”.
When Apple released FaceTime, they themselves restricted it’s use to WiFi, preventing its use on cell phone networks. That’s because Apple recognized mobile networks couldn’t handle it.
When Apple flipped the switch and allowed it’s use on mobile networks, because mobile networks had gotten faster, they clearly said “carrier restrictions may apply”. In other words, it said “carriers may restrict FaceTime with our blessing if they can’t handle the load”.
When Tim Wu wrote his paper defining “NetNeutrality” in 2003, he anticipated just this scenario. He wrote:

“The goal of bandwidth management is, at a general level, aligned with network neutrality.”

He doesn’t give “bandwidth management” a completely free pass. He mentions the issue frequently in his paper with a less favorable description, such as here:

Similarly, while managing bandwidth is a laudable goal, its achievement through restricting certain application types is an unfortunate solution. The result is obviously a selective disadvantage for certain application markets. The less restrictive means is, as above, the technological management of bandwidth. Application-restrictions should, at best, be a stopgap solution to the problem of competing bandwidth demands. 

And that’s what AT&T’s FaceTime limiting was: an unfortunate stopgap solution until LTE was more fully deployed, which is fully allowed under Tim Wu’s principle of NetNeutrality.

So the ACLU’s claim above is fully debunked: such things did happen even with NetNeutrality rules in place, and should happen.

This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog post authored by Robert Graham. Read the original post at: Errata Security