ISPs vs. FCC: Federal Ruling Is Blow to Net Neutrality

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You might think I'm being excessively paranoid, if there weren't already examples of companies doing things much like this, starting with the throttling of BitTorrent connections. Comcast didn't announce to its customers, "Hey, we're throttling down your BitTorrents, hope that's OK." It didn't even say, "Hey, we're cool with using BitTorrent, but if you exceed a certain bandwidth threshold we're gonna ding ya."

Nope. Comcast just did it, in secret. And then denied it. The company selected the bits they allowed to go through, and blocked or throttled the ones it didn't like.

It's not just the big players. Earlier this week, DSL provider Windstream Communications admitted to hijacking its customers' search queries -- redirecting them from the Firefox Google toolbar to its own search portal. The company backed off this policy after it got called out by users on DSL Reports. In this instance, Windstream may have been more clueless than evil, but it points out the control your broadband ISP has over your Internet experience.

Art Brodsky at Public Knowledge puts it better than I can:

The current debate over Net Neutrality and the open Internet is not about the Net. It’s not about Neutrality. It’s not about openness. It’s about you. It’s about Personal Internet Freedom vs. Corporate Internet Control. It’s all about the money.

There’s a reason that Verizon and AT&T and Comcast and the rest of the crew are spending millions of dollars on their lobbying, campaign contributions, front groups and academics to beat up on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Congress, state regulators, state legislators and anybody else who gets in their way.... It’s so they can shape today’s Internet to their liking, and make money from it as they want the Internet to be, and what they want isn’t pretty. They want two things: 1) To do what they want, including destroying (or at least severely restricting) the Internet as we know it. 2) To do it without any government oversight or consumer protection.

It seems the FCC has three options. It can reclassify ISPs under the Communications Act as Title II common carriers, thus subjecting them to some or all of the rules that telcos must operate by. It can lobby Congress to pass a law giving it clear jurisdiction over ISPs (thus giving both sides something new to claw over for the next 18 months). Or it can appeal the court's decision, with the risk of landing back in the same position it now occupies: clutching its groin and moaning.

Personally, I'm voting for option No. 1. Yes, government regulation is often onerous. But if you think the cable and telco industries have your best interests at heart in this debate, I've got a network bridge I want to sell you.

Do our Internet rights need to be protected by the FCC? Weigh in on this debate below or email me:

This article, "Broadband monopolies 1, Net freedom 0," was originally published at Read more of Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog.

This story, "ISPs vs. FCC: Federal Ruling Is Blow to Net Neutrality" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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