ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
The wireless industry is gearing up for a fight over net neutrality. On Monday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced his support for the principle that different kinds of traffic should move across the Internet without discrimination. But he stunned the industry when he said net neutrality should also apply to wireless devices.
Cell phone companies say their services are very different from the regular Internet, and they warn of dire consequences if they're held to the same standards. NPR's Martin Kaste reports.
MARTIN KASTE: Have you ever wanted to watch TV on your iPhone? There's an app for that, just dont try using it on the iPhones AT&T network.
Mr.�MARK SIEGEL (Spokesman, AT&T): The fact is that an application like that is one that consumes a lot of capacity.
KASTE: Mark Siegel is a spokesman for AT&T, which recently barred iPhone users from using Slingbox, a service that can redirect home TV service to handhelds. The app may be way cool, but Siegel says there are practical considerations.
Mr.�SIEGEL: Wireless is fundamentally a shared resource. So, if you have a wireless tower in your area, the people in that area that have your service are contending for that resource at any given time. We have to manage the traffic.
KASTE: Manage the traffic. Those words are anathema to someone like Robb Topolski. He's the guy who first discovered that Comcast was blocking, or slowing down, certain kinds of file sharing on the regular Internet.
Mr.�ROBB TOPOLSKI (New America Foundation): That's my claim to eternal geekdom.
KASTE: Topolski's discovery added momentum to the net neutrality movement. Today, he works for the New America Foundation, a D.C. think-tank, and he favors extending neutrality to wireless.
Mr.�TOPOLSKI: The Internet is a defined thing. It's a set of standards and a set of expectations of operations the wireless service providers, as members of the Internet community, are expected to adhere to.
KASTE: It's a popular sentiment. Some call it techno-populism. But Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of CTIA, the wireless industry's association, warns that it could lead to unintended consequences.
Mr.�CHRIS GUTTMAN-McCABE (Vice President, CTIA): A YouTube download takes 100 times the bandwidth of a voice call. So that gives you a sense of sort of this impending perfect storm that we're going to have on the broadband side.
KASTE: The industry won't cite actual instances of applications causing outages on the networks. Right now, they talk only of potential problems. Net neutrality advocates point out that the carriers are strangely tolerant of some bandwidth hogs, YouTube, for instance, but not others, like Slingbox. Guttman-McCabe defends the carriers' right to make these decisions. He says it's a matter of fairness to the companies.
Mr.�GUTTMAN-McCABE: You dont see NPR being asked to carry advertisements for other radio station groups or programs.
KASTE: He says the U.S. has one of the most competitive and innovative wireless industries in the world. But if the FCC starts enforcing neutrality, that might change. The industry has invested billions buying radio spectrum, and it will need to spend billions more to keep expanding coverage and bandwidth. Neutrality regulations, he says, might have a chilling effect.
Mr.�GUTTMAN-McCABE: To be honest with you, from our perspective, it inserts more than a fair amount of uncertainty into the provision of service.
KASTE: It's not yet clear how aggressive the FCC will be pushing neutrality onto the wireless networks. So far, the chairman has laid out only general principles, and he says he's willing to shape the rules to suit wireless companies' technical challenges.
Martin Kaste, NPR News.
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