The Federal Communications Commission lost its battle with the big cable operators today, when a court ruled that the government agency doesn't have the regulatory authority to require cable companies to treat all Internet traffic equally.
This is one of those issues where the court's decision can easily get lost over the question of whether cable companies should treat all Internet traffic equally. Most reasonable people, it would seem, believe it should.
Common Cause's treatise on the subject explains why:
For example, if you are shopping for a new appliance online you should be able to shop on any and all websites, not just the ones with whom your provider has a preferred business relationship. Or if you want to use your high-speed Internet connection to make phone calls, your provider should not be able to impede your ability to do so.
But the court didn't rule on that aspect of the argument. It ruled on whether it's a role the Federal Communications Commission has.
Jen Howard, from the FCC, hit it on the head:
"Today's court decision invalidated the prior Commission's approach to preserving an open Internet," said Howard. "But the Court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet; nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end."
Look at it this way. Actors can swear on a cable TV show because it isn't delivered "over the air." The FCC has no ownership to apply its obscenity standards. The same program over the air would be bleeped out.
The cable under your street? You don't own it. Comcast does.
Megan Tady of the group FreePress, however, says there's an easy fix to that:
Here's the deal: under the Bush FCC, the agency decided to classify and treat broadband Internet service providers the same as any Internet applications company like Facebook or Lexis-Nexis, placing broadband providers outside of the legal framework that traditionally applied to the companies that offer two-way communications services.
That's the loophole that let Comcast wiggle out from under the agency's thumb.
Change it back
There's an easy fix here: The FCC can change broadband back to a "communications service," which is where it should have been in the first place. By reclassifying broadband, all of these questions about authority will fall away and the FCC can pick up where it left off - protecting the Internet for the public and bridging the digital divide.
Boy, that Comcast. I'm going to switch to a different cable company. Oh wait ...
The issue with Net Neutrality is very complex.
Without Net Neutrality, you have the internet providers (your Comcast, Qwest, Verizon) that can decide that certain traffic that goes to a service they provide (and charge for) can be preferenced over the traffic for their competition. Think Comcast VoIP phone service versus Vonage, without Net Neutrality, Comcast could slow traffic to Vonage and effectively make the service unusable.
On the other hand with Net Neutrality passed, the above scenerio is avoided, but a potential larger problem is created. Think about this, Comcast is providing your home internet connection and is not allowed to preference traffic, this means that they can not filter SPAM email or attacks from malicious software.
How do you determine what legitimate traffic can be blocked or not blocked by an internet provider? How can you write a fool proof rule that prevents malicious traffic, but does not allow providers to deem traffic that they do not like as malicious? Is it ok for an internet provider to limit the top 5% of traffic generators (typically doing file sharing) to provide better service for the other 95% of their customers?
These considerations need to be addressed to make sure the consumer is not harmed under any form of Net Neutrality. Along with this, continued consumer vigilance with the support of the courts will be necessary.
Well, that's certainly a big part of the problem. Originally, cable was regulated by the communities, many of which had lousy over-the-air service and would do just about anything to get a cable company to agree to wire the town -- and thus the monopoly was born!
By the way, Kyle, one of the HUGE problems I had when I was producing a weekly newsletter for aviation (that people subscribed to with a double opt-in process) was that the ISPs like Comcast WOULD filter them out on the subscriber's behalf. Of course, it was only a small point to Comcast, I presume, that my material wasn't spam at all. But there was nothing the subscriber could do about it and it was a nightmare trying to get the ISPs to get me off their list.
I finally gave up and stopped producing the thing.
Why is it the ISP's job to filter spam emails, or prevent connection to a malware-riddled site? There are plenty of programs you can install for yourself that do these sorts of things. Now, it's certainly conceivable that they may want to offer these services to their customers (especially if they are also the email provider), so it may be wise to adopt a law that allows for consumers to opt-in to agreements with ISPs which allow them to filter malicious data.
Filtering SPAM and Malware are just two possibilities that I brought up because most people understand them. Issues like shutting down botnets, killing DNS poisoning attacks, and preventing other low level attacks could also be prohibited through Net Neutrality.
Another item to look at is depending on how Net Neutrality is written (typically it calls for ISPs to not alter traffic in any way), is what about traffic that is in the common good to be altered. An example of this currently is VoIP traffic, to get better quality it is important to prioritize the VoIP traffic over the other less time sensitive traffic on a network.
Here are some 'interesting' opposing views on Net Neutrality: http://www.canvassystems.com/Blog/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/12/Surprising-Opponents-of-Net-Neutrality
After all of that is said and done I still believe the intent of Net Neutrality is a good idea. I just hope that we do not handicap our abilities to use new and developing technologies because the 'regulations' do not allow it.
Bismuth, it's fundamentally the same reason why a road is barricaded in a low lying area when the spring floods come: it's a safety hazard. If they can reduce the amount of crap that is trying desperately to get into my computer, I don't have a problem with that. But....
What I *DO* have a problem with are situations like Bob's, where the ISP makes him go through hoops and it still messes things up.
I do have a question for our genial host: when you were doing the newsletter, would you have been able to avoid at least some of those issues if you had gone with a business connection (e.g. static IP address) through Comcast?
Yes, I know the cost is higher, but I'm curious about whether or not the technical issues would have gone away. I'm out here in the land of Charter and my reading of their propagan...er, marketing materials would seem to indicate that spending the extra sheckels is supposed to achieve that. At least in theory.