Thursday, February 1, 2018

We find ourselves in a new regulatory landscape and I want to speak to how this might affect BITAG. Specifically, I want to discuss how the FCC has recently replaced the 2015 “Open Internet” Order with the “Restoring Internet Freedom” Order.  

This is the FCC’s third Order on the subject of network neutrality during BITAG’s existence – there was the 2010 Open Internet Order that was challenged and later struck down in part by the courts, then the 2015 Open Internet Order revised to withstand the legal challenges that plagued the first, and now the “Restoring Internet Freedom” Order, which repeals nearly the entirety of the regulatory regime put in place by the previous approaches.  As I write, various legal challenges to this latest Order are being prepared, as well as rumblings of different efforts within Congress to address the issue of the “open Internet.”

It is not BITAG’s place to opine on the legal underpinnings of these regulatory efforts, nor are the policy considerations something our engineers can rightly speak to with any expertise.  But we can speak to the technology that makes the network of networks that is the Internet work, and we are here to help everyone in these policy and regulatory debates understand the technical details. Furthermore, we have been here through each of the now three major related regulatory efforts.

Many of you know that BITAG started before the FCC’s first Open Internet Order in 2010, throughout the second Open Internet Order starting in 2015, and we are still going strong as of this latest iteration now in 2018.  The engineers at BITAG have come together time and again to reach consensus on specific network management techniques and practices, and to give best practice recommendations.  We continue to have a broad cross-section of participants from many different parts of the Internet ecosystem, companies that may be at odds or in disagreement in other forums but come together here to find what all of our different members can collectively come to agreement on. And as always, we give the results of our efforts freely to the public, policymakers and regulators, as well as industry, in the form of reports describing each issue and giving those recommendations.

There have been nine reports to date and we are currently working on our tenth report, focused on Internet data collection and privacy. BITAG’s other recent reports have addressed such topics as: Internet of Things (IoT) security and privacy recommendations, differentiated treatment of Internet traffic, interconnection and traffic exchange on the Internet, VoIP impairment and restrictions, real-time network management of Internet congestion, and port blocking, among others. Notably each of our previous reports had a strong trend towards transparency recommendations in addition to other relevant best practices.

BITAG has written detailed reports and given strong recommendations as to the specifics of managing Internet networks many times in the past and we will continue to do so under this new Order, as arguably this latest regulatory twist works to specifically address significantly less than previous Orders and allows for significantly more-varied types of actions than before. Whether you agree with the latest approach or not, from a practical perspective – and at least for the time being – we now seem to find ourselves in a regulatory environment that looks to allow for much more “gray area” within which norms and best practices must be agreed upon.  Thus from one perspective, a broad consensus-based set of technical recommendations on how to go about things would seem more important now than ever before.

Regardless, BITAG has a strong role to play in any regulatory environment, as the need for solid agreed-upon consensus technical information has not and will not go away. Policymakers are often not engineers, but they are making decisions involving complex technology and engineering. To make decisions that do not unintentionally break things, they need to have the best information possible.

BITAG will continue to provide this kind of assistance as the next chapter of how best to approach the Internet from a regulatory perspective unfolds.  Along these lines I also want to reiterate that we are hard at work on our latest effort – focused on Internet data collection and privacy, as mentioned, and which we hope to have finished and available in the next few months.  Further, we will remain ready to assist policymakers and the public in understanding the technical underpinnings of other Internet-related issues as they arise.

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