“Net Neutrality” On The Ropes

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    UPDATE: Amy Schatz on 5 May in The Wall Street Journal says

    “Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has decided to reregulate Internet lines to protect net neutrality, siding with consumer groups and Internet companies worried that Internet providers have too much power.”

    According to what I made of an article by Cecilia Kang in the 3 May Washington Post, we are probably on the verge of losing “net neutrality.” (i.e., uncensored use of the Internet, everybody pays the same).  She reports that Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, according to sources, has indicated he wants to keep broadband services deregulated. This is no doubt because of the April decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which said the FCC “exceeded its authority” when it sanctioned Comcast, and to which the Chairman is about to respond.  The ruling brought into question the Commission’s ability even to force Internet service providers to treat all services on the Web equally. It looks as though Genachowski will announce that “reclassifying” broadband to allow for more regulation would be “overly burdensome on carriers and would deter investment,” and would undoubtedly lead to extended lawsuits every time he attempted to institute a broadband policy. Art Brodsky, spokesman for Public Knowlege, a media public interest group, said:

    The telephone and cable companies will object to any path the chairman takes. He might as well take the one that best protects consumers and is most legally sound.

    What could this mean to the consumer, and especially to bloggers?  Marvin Ammori on Huffington Post, pointed out such a decision by the FCC Chairman would break Obama’s most important pledge about the Internet, and proceeded to list a sample of 10 “horribles,” quoted at length here because of their importance and Mr. Ammori’s impeccable prose (my emphasis added):

    1) Block your tweets, if you criticize Comcast’s service or its merger, especially if you use the #ComcastSucks hashtag.

    2) Block your vote to the consumerist.com, when you vote Comcast the worst company in the nation. No need for traffic to get through.

    3) Force every candidate for election to register their campaign-donations webpage and abide by the same weird rules that apply to donations by text message.

    4) Comcast could even require a “processing fee,” becoming the Ticketmaster of campaign contributions.

    5) Comcast could reserve the right to approve of every campaign online and every mass email to a political party’s or advocacy group’s list (as they do with text message short codes).

    6) If you create a small online business and hit it big, threaten to block your business unless you share 1/3 or more of all your revenues with them (apps on the iPhone app stores often are forced to give up a 1/3 or more; so are cable channels on cable TV).

    7) Block all peer to peer technologies, even those used for software developers to share software, distribute patches (world of warcraft), distribute open source software (Linus). In fact, Comcast has shown it would love to do this.

    8) Block Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, Moreon.org (and its emails), because of an “exclusive: deal with other blogs. Or alternatively, block FoxNews.com because of a deal with NBC and MSNBC.

    9) Monitor everything you do online and sell it to advertisers, something else that some phone and cable have done, with the help of a shady spyware company.

    10) Lie to you about they’re blocking and what they’re monitoring. Hell, the FCC wouldn’t have any authority to make them honest. The FCC couldn’t punish them.

    While the final decision has not been made (to break Obama’s campaign promise), Mr. Ammori is not too hopeful. Given the proven clout of major corporations in the halls of power in Washington, I am not too hopeful, either. Should we write to the FCC Chair? To Obama? To our Congresspersons? Heh.

    • Teddy Goodson

      is only one man’s list; there’s a lot more mischief possible than he comes up with. Not to put too fine a point on all this, but it really is a potential First Amendment question, IMO. The internet is the new form of “the press” and it could easily be stifled and censored all in the name of market capitalism. Does anyone care? Corporate feudalism marches on—- or will, if unchecked by a greater power.

    • jack russell

      I think these fears are way overblown.  Yeah, they might try and do this, but trust me – there are ways past all of the blocks that they might put up.

      Just ask the Chinese trying to get past the censors.  A constant cat-and-mouse as people set up proxies to let them get past the censors.   The government blocks one proxy, and a new one pops up to take its place.

      Comcast might do something like this, I suppose – but how many $$ is it worth to them?  How many full-time employees is it worth to them to play whack-a-mole?  Eventually they will realize the futility of it all.

    • Randy Klear

      It’s more subtle than that. Verizon (and no doubt Comcast too) has been preparing for years to segregate bandwidth by source, giving faster access to sites with which they have business arrangements. They won’t deny you Google; they’ll just slow it to a crawl and force you over to Bing as a matter of sheer practicality. They’ll give bigger pipes to video hosts and shopping sites that scratch their backs and make the small players so frustrating to use that people won’t. They will, in general, declare war on small web businesses and push people into the hands of the big boys.

      Of course, the customers who are being manipulated won’t blame Verizon or Comcast; they’ll blame the operators of the slow web sites.

      I’d also brace myself for something large hosting services have been doing to email for years–splicing their own ads into other people’s pages on the way to the reader. And again, if they break the HTML in the course of inserting their content, the customer is going to see it as the site’s problem, not Comcast’s.