VARs Split On Net Neutrality Debate

Solution providers weighed in on the federal net neutrality debate as the Federal Communications Commission said that it will vote on an official proposal on Feb. 26.

Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs give equal access to content and applications without favoring or blocking certain kinds of products or sites. Federal regulators will vote next month on rules governing how ISPs deal with the flow of content on their high-speed networks.

The debate became heated in 2014 when the FCC said it will propose new rules that allow ISPs to charge content providers for access to higher bandwidth, also known as Internet "fast lanes," which would allow speedier access to subscribers. The new rules also would characterize broadband as a public utility, placing broadband under Title II regulations and under the same classification as landline telephone services.

[Related: Tackling The Bandwidth Issue Head On]

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"I don't feel compelled or comforted that the government needs to come in and do a bunch of extra regulations," said Mark Robinson, president of CentraComm, a Findlay, Ohio-based solution provider. "Most of the time the market sort of sorts itself out."

He also is not in favor of the public-private overlap.

"So if they're trying to get into essentially creating a service that's competitive with private companies, I'm not a huge fan of that," said Robinson, in regard to Internet fast lanes. "I think the Internet in many ways -- it's not perfect -- but it's done pretty well for a long time of self-regulating and innovating on its own, and I think that's what competitive markets do."

Proponents of net neutrality argue that creating fast lanes would put startups and smaller content providers at a major disadvantage, while opponents argue that regulating the Internet will prevent companies and practices from allowing consumers to have a faster Internet connection.

"I'm all for 'fast lanes,'" said Don Gulling, president of Verteks Consulting, an Ocala, Fla.-based ShoreTel partner. "I believe that will allow the VAR market to sell more voice and video solutions by giving customers a [quality of service] type option over Internet links."

Gulling said that if the FCC approves its new regulations, a downside would be that circuit sales revenue and commissions would probably decline as a result, "so VARs with lots of circuit sales will need to replace that revenue."

Dozens of vendors, including Cisco Systems, IBM and Intel, have signed a petition to oppose the rules regarding characterizing broadband as a public utility.

According to an October survey by the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication, respondents "overwhelmingly opposed Internet 'fast lanes,'" which might result from a lack of enforceable net neutrality rules. Eighty-one percent of respondents "oppose" or "strongly oppose" allowing ISPs to charge extra for faster delivery speeds, including 85 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents.

John O'Shea, president of Vology, a Tampa, Fla.-based solution provider and Elite Juniper partner, said his company has been investing heavily in managing service platform and utilities IT services.

"So I certainly understand the connection there -- people trying to connect the idea that access and the service itself can be metered and allocated and priced like a utility; that aspect of it certainly makes sense to me," said O'Shea. "The issue that we face here is the Internet and access has almost become like a God-given right at this point. So the idea that it's somehow going to be restricted or curtailed or there's going to be different levels of services is difficult for people to get their minds around that aspect of it … The devil is going to be in the details."

President Barack Obama has previously urged the FCC to enforce ’the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality’ and to regulate Internet services like any other public utility. Obama also disagreed with the idea of ISPs providing Internet "fast lanes."

"When the President came out ... there was an effort made to say Wheeler and the President are pulling in opposite directions on this," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler during CES earlier this week. "But that wasn't exactly the reality because we're both pulling in the same direction, which is no blocking, no throttling of applications and transparency about how we get there."

Federal courts rejected earlier FCC efforts to regulate ISPs in January 2014.

Wheeler expects to circulate his net neutrality proposal on Feb. 5 in order to give time for discussion before the Feb. 26 vote.