OTI Study Shows Strong Network Neutrality Rules are Feasible for Mobile Carrier Networks

Press Release
Nov. 13, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) today released an engineering study showing that mobile broadband providers have the capability today to implement strong network neutrality rules that prohibit any discriminatory treatment of third-party applications or content. The study demonstrates the fallacy of wireless industry claims that network neutrality is not technically feasible for mobile networks.

The study concludes that “Long Term Evolution” (LTE, or 4G) technology is capable of managing moderate congestion through prioritization protocols that are application-agnostic (e.g., user-directed prioritization). When faced with severe congestion, such as at a major sporting event, LTE networks are able to prioritize delay-sensitive traffic while avoiding discrimination among like applications, content, or services. The study – commissioned by OTI and conducted by CTC Technology & Energy – was submitted to the FCC today.

On Monday President Obama called on the FCC to adopt strong network neutrality rules under Title II of the Telecommunications Act and to “make these rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, while recognizing the special challenges that come with managing wireless networks.”

“There is no question that mobile networks today are technically capable of implementing the same strong network neutrality rules that would apply to wireline, satellite and other broadband networks,” said Michael Calabrese, director of OTI’s Wireless Future Project.

“Contrary to the claims of mobile carriers, the study released today demonstrates that LTE technology has the capability now to manage even situations of severe network congestion by treating like applications alike, without favoring carrier-sponsored or carrier-affiliated content or services,” Calabrese added.

“Because of unpredictable surges in demand, such as during peak hours in a downtown area, the prioritization of delay-sensitive applications like video chat and VoIP calls can be a reasonable means of ensuring quality of service,” said Andrew Afflerbach, principal author of the report and CEO and Director of Engineering at CTC Technology and Energy.

“At the same time, our study shows that moderate congestion can be handled with application-agnostic prioritization, such as offering consumers a premium speed tier. And even when congestion is severe, LTE has the capability to prioritize delay-sensitive applications in a completely non-discriminatory fashion that does not favor carrier-affiliated apps, content or services,” Afflerbach added.

Calabrese emphasized that at most times and places, the capacity of mobile broadband networks is not congested and there is little if any need to prioritize any user or use. In fact, the report notes that nearly all mobile carrier traffic today is carried on a “best effort” basis, including streaming video apps.

And while the FCC could determine it is a “reasonable network management” to prioritize delay-sensitive applications at times of severe congestion, the study shows that LTE can always do this in a manner that “treats like applications alike,” Calabrese added.

The full report is available here.