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FCC?s net neutrality OK raises worries of mobile over-regulation

The decision, approved by the FCC in a 3-2 vote, defies months-long opposition by telecom and cable companies and Republicans on Capitol Hill. The new rules are intended to ensure that the Internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else, a concept known as net neutrality.

?The FCC?s aggressiveness in trying to lay a legal framework for its authority has it over-reaching here, in my mind,? said Rich Karpinski, senior analyst at Yankee Group, Boston.

?The problem with that is two-fold. One, it may actually over-regulate an industry in mobile that is quite thriving and competitive on its own,? he said.

?Two, it likely guarantees the uncertainty over this issue will continue via legal challenges and congressional debate ? in essence, accomplishing nothing.? 

Open Internet
Mobile marketers theoretically will benefit from both an open Internet and continued investment in mobile networks and infrastructure. 

With the net being more uniformly controlled, it should in turn increase overall utilization and provide an even larger audience.
Enlarging the audience on mobile.

?Despite what you may hear from either side in this partisan issue in the coming days and weeks, and months, and likely years, neither is facing the sort of danger that would impact a mobile marketer?s day-to-day activities or opportunities,? Mr. Karpinski said.

Other experts doubted the decision would have an immediate significant effect.

?I would specifically feel the impact will not be all that dramatic except down the line with the fact premium based services may change, which would alter how some marketers display their messages,? said Ken Wisnefski, founder/CEO of WebiMax, Mount Laurel, NJ. ?I am still a bit unclear though of the range of impact.?

The order also includes provisions to protect consumer privacy and to ensure Internet service is available for people with disabilities and in remote areas.

Despite the approval, it is difficult to gauge just how aggressively the FCC ultimately will regulate the mobile sector.

?The rules of the internet and mobile are just evolving,? Mr. Wisnefski said. ?The FCC realizes that is somewhat the Wild West and they need to spend more time evaluating it to have more restrictions. 

?While I don?t love government interference at this juncture, I can appreciate the need for regulation,? he said.

For consumers, the decision is expected to provide more opportunity to latch on to networks at higher speeds.

?So the potential [exists] for better ability to view mobile-fed content,? Mr. Wisnefski said.

Approval of the rules comes as mobile's role in online content consumption is growing.

In May, the FCC voted to open up the issue to public debate and encouraged the public to weigh in on mobile and net neutrality, indicating the topic was on regulators? minds.

The FCC has been in a tough spot trying to pull mobile into the equation.

Mobile is becoming a competitive space. Since the FCC wants to keep it that way, competitive forces arguably could help enforce non-discrimination in mobile.

Addressing changes
The rules are part of an effort to address significant changes that have taken place in the mobile marketplace in the last five years, pointing to how mobile providers manage their networks, the increased use of Wi-Fi and the growing use of mobile devices and applications.

Bringing order to a Wild West mobile environment.

?I think that the government beginning to focus more heavily on the internet is interesting, as they have been very slow to adapt to what is going on with the internet,? Mr. Wisnefski said. ?Many laws are severely outdated as people have progressed from typewriters to smartphones, and the ability to have an audience and platform is open to anyone. 

?This is all new within the past 20 years but at the same time, our laws have been extremely slow in adapting policy that speaks to the landscape of today,? he said.

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York