FCC takes ‘cautious’ approach to network slicing in proposed net neutrality rules

Draft rules decline to broadly classify network slicing technology

The draft net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission will vote on later this month, don’t take a position on whether network slicing technology would fundamentally and inherently be regulated by those rules.

The draft rules take note that there are concerns about whether network slicing services could be used as a loophole to get around the FCC’s intent to prevent an uneven internet playing field or “pay to play” internet services, but in general, say that wireless internet providers should evaluate whether their slicing-based service would qualify as, or violate the rules laid out for, Broadband Internet Access Services (BIAS)—and that if the rules pass, the agency will keep an eye on those things as well.

The draft report and order reads: “We decline at this time to categorize network slicing or the services delivered through network slicing as inherently either BIAS or non-BIAS data services, or to opine on whether any particular use of network slicing or the services delivered through network slicing would be considered a reasonable network management practice under the open Internet rules …” The draft goes on to note that some commentators “specifically express concern that network slicing will be used to circumvent our prohibition on paid prioritization, throttling, or unreasonable discrimination.” However, the agency goes on to recognize the fact that network slicing development is in its early stages, saying that the “potential use cases for network slicing are still under development and that MNOs are in the early stages of adopting the technique, with some moving more quickly than others.

“Given the nascent nature of network slicing, we conclude that it is not appropriate at this time to make a categorical determination regarding all network slicing and the services delivered through the use of network slicing,” the draft says, though it does reiterate that the FCC does not want to “allow network slicing to be used to evade” open internet rules if they are adopted, and offers this advice: “MNOs should evaluate whether their particular uses of network slicing fall within the definition of BIAS, and if so, ensure their uses of network slicing are consistent with the conduct rules … . And to the extent uses of network slicing fall outside of BIAS, we will closely monitor these uses to evaluate if they are providing the functional equivalent of BIAS, being used to evade our open Internet rules, or otherwise undermining investment, innovation, competition, or end-user benefits in the Internet ecosystem. We will also monitor if network slicing affects the last-mile capacity available for, and the performance of, BIAS. If necessary, we will take action to address harmful uses of network slicing.

“We believe this approach will allow for the continued development and implementation of network slicing while at the same time ensuring that the use of network slicing in connection with BIAS conforms to the classification and rules adopted in this Order,” the draft reads.

“We appreciate the Commission has taken a cautious approach that does not predetermine that a new technology is a threat to open internet principles. Nokia believes that network slicing will be an enormous benefit for consumers and will be done consistent with the draft rules,” said Nokia’s Chief Public Policy & Government Affairs Officer Brian Hendricks in a statement, adding that the network equipment manufacturer “stands ready to collaborate with the FCC and industry partners to showcase the immense benefits of network slicing and how the technology will be deployed consistent with the draft rules. Together, we can foster investment, innovation, and U.S. leadership in the 5G era.”

The FCC expects to vote on whether to implement the new net neutrality rules at its April 25 meeting. The vote is expected to pass on a party-line basis, with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr registering his opposition in a statement this week said, in part, that Title II-regulation of broadband internet access services “is a solution that doesn’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

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