Yesterday, a federal appeals court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cannot force independent broadband providers to offer free and equal access to all websites and online services.
The ruling basically gives Comcast, the largest cable provider in the nation, freedom to block customers’ access to web services (BitTorrent was the major web service in question).
Why would Comcast want to block access to certain sites/online services? Well, the company claims that customers who use services like BitTorrent slow down the network for other paying customers. In addition, some of the content shared via this peer-to-peer file-sharing service is not licensed for free distribution (think bootlegs, ripped music, etc.).
The ruling would allow Comcast and other Internet service providers to restrict consumers’ ability to access certain kinds of Internet content, such as video sites like Hulu.com or Google’s YouTube service, or charge certain heavy users of their networks more money for access.
Google, Microsoft and other big producers of Web content have argued that such controls or pricing policies would thwart innovation and customer choice.
Why are a lot of people who believe in free and open Internet access so against this ruling/corporate broadband service providers? They hear words and phrases like “block”, “restrict”, and “charge more”, and they immediately point their fingers at the corporations. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the government offers a pleasant alternative.
The term “Net Neutrality” tries to play on our emotions, and it really oversimplifies something a lot of people don’t understand. Of course, we want Net Neutrality! Listen, I like the sound of Net Neutrality as much as you do, but I don’t buy the terms that come along with it.
Control of broadband access would also mean that the FCC could control and moderate the content being distributed, the same way that the corporations can block certain websites from customers. Since the early 1900s, our government has been regulating radio broadcasting, but not without its own triumphs and failures. The history of FCC regulation in radio is one that includes periods of tight regulation mixed with periods of more relaxed regulation.
Do you want the Internet to be regulated the same way AM/FM radio stations are? Is it even possible? The Internet is a wild beast that really tests our government’s ability to control and regulate media. Radio and television broadcasting is much easier to regulate than the Internet, a GLOBAL network with so many nooks and crannies it’s easy to get lost.
We want a free and equal playing ground for everyone, but that privilege is going to require a lot more effort and thought than we are currently investing. The FCC proposed a national broadband plan, which aimed to prevent regulation of Internet access by corporate broadband providers (i.e. Comcast). In the national broadband plan, two main goals include: 1. At least 100 million American homes should have high-speed Internet access and 2. The U.S. will have the fastest and most extensive wireless network.
Okay, here’s my problem: I believe that we can only achieve innovation is through a free and open market. Government regulation will not provide us with the best and fastest service. An incentive for companies to improve their broadband service/increase their coverage is the promise of more customers. Basically, the broadband service providers HAVE to innovate and improve their services in order to survive. What’s the government’s incentive?
Other Broadband providers do exist. Consumer demand allows new businesses to grow and innovate, allowing people with new ideas to make broadband access better and faster. Let the creative, innovative people do their thing, and the market will flourish, allowing Internet users nationwide more affordable access.
I don’t necessarily champion Comcast. I’m sure the company will find a way to use this ruling to its advantage by tightening restrictions and driving up service costs. But consider this: sometimes it’s beneficial for a company to regulate the websites people can access. On Monday, I blogged about Internet trolls and 4Chan. In 2009, AT&T blocked user access to 4Chan’s anonymous forum because, as AT&T claims, hackers were trying to infiltrate the network. AT&T was trying to protect itself and its customers (some people cried “censorship”, but I believe AT&T’s claims).
So, you got all that, right? Well, there’s more.
Some CEO’s of Internet-based companies actually SUPPORT Net Neutrality and claim that it does promote innovation, creativity, and economic growth (despite everything I just explained). Executives who have been known to support Net Neutrality include Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (please, please, PLEASE watch this video with Mark’s sister Randi), Twitter’s Evan Williams, Digg’s Kevin Rose, Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, and Google’s Eric Schmidt.
Well, yes, in the case of INTERNET-ONLY companies, Net Neutrality DOES support innovation because it ensures that no broadband providers will block these websites.
Seriously? What a mess.
Listen, too many consumers use the above websites for them to be okay with broadband providers blocking these sites/charging extra to access them.
Nowadays, we have so little faith in the consumer market. Let the customers speak. Let them exercise their freedom to purchase broadband, decide which sites they want to access, and choose their Internet of the future.
(Photo by JasonWalton)