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Net Neutrality: Threat or Menace?

Letting an ISP decided that it should carry one kind of content but not another, or that it should allow certain types of content to flow through its pipes faster than others, is a bad thing.

I had a dream. In it, I was CEO of a large telecommunications company that was also a major broadband Internet provider and all five members of the FCC were stabbing me with pitchforks and yelling in my ear that my company would be treated as a common carrier, not as a special entity they couldn't regulate. That's when I woke up, covered with sweat, and found EFF counsel Cindy Cohn's Review of Verizon and Google's Net Neutrality Proposal on my laptop screen.

I am glad this was all a dream, and that I am not now and have never been the CEO of a broadband Internet provider.

[login] My personal take on Net Neutrality is that ISPs should treat all packets equally. I do not like the idea of being forced to host all my videos on YouTube or another huge site that can afford to make special deals with broadband providers such as Brighthouse, my local cable TV monopoly, instead of on my friend Joe's Globaltap hosting service.

Indeed, I said something along these lines back in 2006 in a little video I posted on YouTube.

The "Lawful" Content and Wireless Exclusions — Fail

These seven bold words are direct quotes from the EFF's Cindy Cohn. She's pointing out that if an ISP even thinks some little bit of content in a certain class or from a certain source might not be lawful -- that is, some of it might be infringing copyrights or something equally dastardly -- that ISP can either slow down or simply refuse to carry that class of content. A direct and currently applicable case of this could be my ISP (Brighthouse) slowing down or refusing to carry the BitTorrent packets containing a GNU/Linux ISO I'm currently downloading because some of my neighbors use BitTorrrnt to download illegally-obtained software or HD movies.

Letting an ISP decided that it should carry one kind of content but not another, or that it should allow certain types of content to flow through its pipes faster than others, is a Bad Thing. Indeed, after a little reflection, even ISPs might decided that it's good for them to have no liability for potentially infringing or otherwise illegal data (i.e. snuff films, child porn, Al Qaeda orders to blow up the Los Angeles City Hall) passing through their facilities the same way they now have no liability for voice conversations they carry.

No, these are special puppies

The Economist actually ran an article about Net Neutrality under the headline, No, these are special puppies. One sentence in the article says, "Since May the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been considering reclassifying broadband internet access as a telecommunications service."

I believe the FCC needs to do this today, if not sooner. Yes, there was a Supreme Court decision back in 2002 that said the FCC couldn't regulate ISPs as common carriers if they included services such as email and Web hosting, which made them "information services" instead of "telecommunications services." But, the Economist's article notes, "...a dissenting justice observed that a pet store might just as logically package its puppies with leashes and then argue that it sold leashes, not puppies. Now, as the FCC regrets its ruling, Google and Verizon are lobbying for Congress to declare wireless services open to data discrimination."

Ah, yes. Wireless services. The coming thing. Before long we will all do most of our computing and Net-type communicating on "mobile devices" instead of personal computers, right? And our mobile Net access will be controlled by the service we use, right? But that's okay, because we all know companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint have our best interests at heart, and will never make a decision based solely on their ability to force us -- and companies that want us to be able to use their Net-based services through our wireless devices -- to pay and pay and pay.

"In your dreams," you say. And you're right. That's the only place American telecommunications companies ever put customers' interests ahead of their own.

Sad to say, when I woke up from this dream, I was an ISP and mobile carrier customer, not CEO of a broadband Internet provider. Talk about crying! The more I read about what's happening with Net Neutrality, the more I find to cry about.

Robin 'Roblimo' Miller is a writer, editor, and online community builder; author of three IT-related books; and a skilled video director, editor, and producer. He's been covering technology, politics, and business since 1985 for assorted print and online publications, and was a Slashdot editor for 10 years under his "Roblimo" nom de net.
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