Last week, the FCC ruled Comcast could not slow down the transmission of peer-to-peer file sharing downloads over its broadband network in a precedent-setting decision. You can read more about the decision here, here and here. The FCC ruled Comcast’s actions were unlawful because all lawful conduct online is supposed to be treated equally in the interest of an “open and accessible” internet.
Comcast said it slowed down certain high-bandwidth services to manage its network. If my neighbor does nothing but peer-to-peer all day, while I just want to get on and check emails and sports scores, should my service be clogged by his band-with hogging? Comcast took the position that it should be able to “throttle” my neighbor’s use, for the betterment of the experience for the masses. They also raised questions about the FCC’s jurisdiction in this area. The two dissenting commissioners would’ve ruled for Comcast on this ground which is likely to spur a subsequent lawsuit.
THE BENEFITS OF THE RULING:
OPEN AND ROBUST INTERNET ACCESS: The consensus is that Comcast is not alone and it is an industry-wide custom to “manage” broadband traffic. This is the first time the Government has affirmatively come out in favor of net neutrality despite Congress’s failed efforts. If it stands, it will likely ensure net neutrality for some time to come.
DISCLOSURE: The FCC really focused on Comcast’s failure to disclose its traffic management to its subscribers. The majority of FCC Commissioners compared undisclosed web traffic management to the post office looking at a mailed package and deciding for whatever reason to return it to the sender without providing any reason why or advanced notice that the post office wouldn’t deliver it.
MANAGEMENT GONE AWRY: Many net neutrality advocates were concerned that Comcast could manage certain “content” rather than “format.” Could Comcast slow down the traffic to the websites of its satellite dish competitors? Could it slow down the traffic to a critic’s site? The rogue possibilities are endless. Comcast was never accused of these acts, but it was a slippery slope the FCC would like to prevent.
YOUR BROADBAND WILL BECOME SLOWER: Without the ability to manage the traffic, broadband will become slower for everyone. The FCC dissenters and Comcast made this the main argument other than jurisdiction. The FCC majority countered there has never been any evidence of this. As a Comcast Broadband subscriber at home, I will have to see if I notice any slowdowns in the near future.
MENU PRICING: Rather than charging flat fees for unlimited access, several cable companies say they may have to start charging for usage and file loads as a way to prevent the more general public from baring the brunt of the cost of heavy peer-to-peer users. Market forces will have an impact on whether this ever comes to fruition.
Why You Should Care
Presumably you do not own Comcast or run a business dependent on peer-to-peer file sharing. You should care nevertheless. Surely, you would be appalled if the media decided certain stories were too complex for a one minute TV piece or 6 inches of copy so they simply decided no one could cover the stories or provide access to it, even if you wanted to go find it. We already put up with unsavory websites, spam and other inconveniences so a slightly slower broadband connection (if it actually happens), is something I am willing to put up with to make sure no one, government or otherwise, restricts what I can access. If the public really desires managed broadband access, the market will account for that and offer such a service that may be slightly faster, but managed. Those same market forces will likely force Comcast and others to provide the same service today that they provided while they managed their networks. Regardless, for now, give me my unfiltered internet access–warts and all.