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. In other words, strong forms “network neutrality” rules that prohibit any prioritization of packets or quality of service mechanisms are going to clash with the direction of change in spectrum management. 

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.”

That is not to say that less-obtrusive rules are unnecessary. It still makes sense to allow consumers to use all lawful applications, without blocking or quality degradation for commercial advantage. The issue is whether it will continue to make sense to allow only “bronze” levels of service and prohibit higher-quality “silver or gold” levels of service that are optional and customer-selected.

In that regard, new methods of bonding licensed and unlicensed spectrum will have a big impact (such as bonding licensed mobile and unlicensed Wi-Fi assets).

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.