Convergence of Licensed, Unlicensed Spectrum Will Stress "Net Neutrality" Rules
As communication platforms blending licensed and unlicensed spectrum continue to develop, it seems obvious that new thinking might--or must--emerge related to network neutrality and quality of service mechanisms. To use just one example, bonding of mobile licensed spectrum with unlicensed assets to support voice services arguably results in some QoS mechanisms being employed for Wi-Fi networks, to make them operate “carrier grade.”
For consumer internet access regulation, that is an indirect development, as Wi-Fi typically operates as a local distribution mechanism, separate from the actual “access.” In that sense, what is done within any specific Wi-Fi session, by any specific device, does not actually entail a direct use of the access link, and so network neutrality rules are not involved.
In a functional sense, that might not be the case, as in a growing number of cases, Wi-Fi actually does function as an “access” connection. The easiest example is when a third party device registers to use a Wi-Fi hotspot in a public setting, or when a user logs on to a “homespot” operated by a cable TV company.
That is not to say “best effort access” will disappear. There will remain a large number of use cases where best effort access is what the business model will support. That is true for venue amenity access, for example. But many of the other use cases might well involve quality of service mechanisms and prioritized access. That is likely to be the case where mobile bandwidth--used to support carrier voice services--is bonded with Wi-Fi.
Carrier-grade access (already possible for commercial accounts) might also appear to support consumer video entertainment services, as such QoS is a staple for linear video services, where consumers pay for access to content, and then the use of the network (also including mechanisms to assure quality of service) is simply a feature of the service.
The point: strict adherence to the notion that consumer internet access must, by law, be limited to “best effort” is going to be bypassed in a growing number of settings where licensed or unlicensed spectrum assets are used.