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'Too Much Uncertainty'

Net Neutrality Advocates Urge FCC to Tighten 5G Slicing Rules

Proponents of revised net neutrality rules are urging FCC commissioners to further tighten provisions on 5G network slicing, one of the more contested items in the proposed rules (see 2404050053). But officials on both sides said it’s not clear how many changes will be made to the order, prior to an expected 3-2 vote next week. Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel may need to make some concessions because the rules likely won’t pass without support from her fellow Democrats Geoffrey Starks and Anna Gomez.

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In a new filing at the FCC, representatives of the Open Technology Institute at New America urged tweaks to the slicing rules on calls with aides to Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and staff from the Wireless and Wireline bureaus. The FCC declined comment Tuesday.

We argued that because the current language may create too much uncertainty -- and encourage too much case-case-by adjudication -- the Commission needs to clarify that it is likely to find that a network slice that provides favorable treatment to a specific application or specific content (or even a specific category of applicants or content, but not others) would evade the protections of the open internet rules,” said a filing on the meeting,” OTI said in a filing Tuesday in docket 23-320.

OTI urged that “at a minimum” the FCC add another example “to clarify in a tangible way that application- or content-specific discrimination in favor of a network slice offered to … customers is a likely evasion, even if there is no paid prioritization.” The OTI presentation builds on a warning last week by Barbara van Schewick, director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, on the dangers posed by the slicing rules (see 2404120045).

The FCC may be open to some changes in the order's language, predicted Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld. PK has been part of the coalition that raised slicing concerns, along with OTI, van Schewick and Scott Jordan, computer science professor at the University of California, Irvine (see 2403130057).

We've been supportive of tightening up the language here to avoid possible future problems,” Feld told us: “The question is whether the chair thinks they've already done enough.” Jordan said he didn’t have any insights into what the majority would do.

This is the problem with sweeping orders,” said Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer. “A near blanket non-prioritization rule undoubtedly runs afoul of other FCC priorities, like the promotion of 5G and even 6G,” Thayer said. OTI is right to raise concerns because the way the draft order is written requires carriers to play “a game of 'mother, may I,’” he said. Carriers don’t pose the risks to neutrality posed by “big tech,” he said. “Candidly, this whole proceeding is ill-advised and completely unwarranted even with the spectrum slicing issue resolved.”

It’s wrong to try and regulate a nascent technology when we haven’t even really seen the application and how network slicing will be used yet,” said Jonathan Cannon, R Street Institute policy counsel-technology and innovation and former aide to FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington. Net neutrality advocates seem to see slicing as “a form of paid prioritization,” he said.

The entire point of 5G networks is this ability to facilitate slicing,” Cannon said. Slicing has become more important because of the limited amount of licensed mid-band spectrum available to carriers and the growing demand for wireless traffic, he said. A case-by-case analysis is “probably a better outcome, but I’d happily see the rule going away completely,” he said.