T-Mobile urged the FCC to update 'reasonable network management' in a way that would address 5G network slicing. But the agency is not planning to address the technology in its new net neutrality rules.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

April 3, 2024

4 Min Read
3D illustration, abstract background, technology concept. Binary tubes and connections
(Source: Kiyoshi Takahase Segundo/Alamy Stock Photo)

FCC officials confirmed that the agency's new net neutrality guidelines won't specifically address new 5G technologies like network slicing. Instead, officials explained that network slicing will be handled under the same policy regime that the agency used in 2015, when it imposed net neutrality guidelines during the Obama administration.

However, during a media briefing, FCC officials also said that 5G network slicing technology will be subject to the agency's new net neutrality rules. The officials, who spoke on background and declined to be identified, explained that the agency's 2015 rules regarding network management technologies are flexible enough to address newer services like network slicing. As such, network slicing will be handled like any other network management technology, and won't receive any special consideration.

The FCC plans to vote on April 25 on new net neutrality rules. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said she will release a public draft of her net neutrality proposal on Thursday. The new rules will likely pass along 3-2 party lines, with the agency's three Democratic commissioners voting in favor of the rules.

"In 2017, we lived through one of the greatest hoaxes in regulatory history. We were told that ending 'net neutrality' (read: government control of the Internet) would end the Internet," Brendan Carr, the FCC's top Republican commissioner, posted on social media. "Now the government wants that control back & the FCC will vote on doing just that. I'm a no."

The FCC initially voted to enact its net neutrality guidelines during the Democratic Obama administration. But those rules were overturned during the Republican Trump administration under FCC Chair Ajit Pai. After President Biden, a Democrat, replaced Trump and gained Democratic control of the FCC, the agency proposed a new set of net neutrality rules. Thus, it's likely that, if Trump wins a second term, he would overturn them again.

The network slicing debate

The FCC's current position on network slicing and net neutrality would seem to run against a proposal first floated by T-Mobile in December. In a filing then, the company urged the FCC to update its definition of "reasonable network management" to include services like network slicing.

"A targeted update to the definition of 'reasonable network management' that accommodates emerging network management techniques will make it easier for providers to offer more valuable services to end-users, make the delivery of services more efficient, and support the development and deployment of beneficial specialized services," T-Mobile argued.

Others disagreed, however. For example, a cable industry lobbying group wrote that the FCC "should decline calls to revise those definitions to incorporate overt references to, or special allowances or more flexible regulatory treatment for, particular technologies, such as 'network slicing' employed on 5G wireless networks."

Verizon, for its part, recently urged the FCC to retain its "longstanding, technology-neutral definition" of network management that was included in the agency's 2015 rules.

"Some commenters in the record have chosen to seek new restrictions specific to emerging network slicing technologies enabled by 5G networks," Verizon wrote. "Placing unnecessary restrictions on this technology could stifle it in its infancy, to the detriment of consumers and our nation's leadership position in the mobile economy."

The topic of network slicing generated plenty of discussion within Washington policy circles.

"The debate surrounding 'network slicing' is welcome because it rather convincingly demonstrates the inherently problematic nature of the proposal to impose public utility regulation on Internet service providers in a technologically dynamic marketplace," wrote Randolph J. May and Andrew Long with the Free State Foundation, a think tank. "The controversy highlights the regulatory uncertainty necessarily created by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel's proposal – uncertainty that inevitably would impede innovation and investment, thereby harming both consumers and competition."

Others cheered the FCC's new net neutrality push.

"Under these strong but flexible FCC rules, every ISP will be responsible for making resilient networks available to people on just and reasonable terms. And they won't be able to pick and choose what any of us can say or see online. Net neutrality is a guarantee that the phone and cable companies will carry our data across the Internet without undue interference or unreasonable discrimination," wrote Craig Aaron, co-CEO of advocacy group Free Press Action.

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like