While healthcare may be the hottest topic of all right now, it's hard
to argue that net neutrality
isn't one of the hottest
, longest lasting
topics as related to the Internet. Ever since this series of tubes was
first put into place, pundits and supporters alike have debated
how much regulation was needed. Some argued that ISPs knew better than
the average joe and deserved to be able to control certain aspects of
the Internet experience, while others maintained that the Internet was
great because of the freedom it gave the creative minds of the world.
Now, all of those arguments are coming back to life once more, but this
time a whole host of network carriers will be chiming in. And we
already know what they'll say. On Monday, the new chairman of the
Federal Communications Commission
, Mr. Julius Genachowski, will
reportedly address those who matter in an effort to push a new set of
guidelines surrounding net neutrality. It's the first major move to be
made by the newly appointed chair, who only took office a few months
ago after being appointed by President Obama.
FCC Chairman Julias Genachowski - Stepping up to the plate...
First, a little backstory. Last year, a small cadre of Comcast users
began to suspect that the company was actually throttling data used in
. Granted, BitTorrent and P2P stays in the news mostly
for illicit acts of downloading media that has not been legally
purchased, but we don't need to convince you that P2P has a great deal
of power on the legal side as well. It's a fantastic way to share legal
media without placing a huge burden on one single CDN (content delivery
network), but clearly Comcast felt it was easier to simply throttle all
P2P traffic in an effort to make sure that the rest of its subscribers
had an enjoyable Internet experience. At issue here is whether or not a
huge company, which provides Internet access to tens of thousands of
individuals in America, has the right to say what traffic deserves to
be slowed and/or what applications can or cannot run on its network. To
a consumer, the answer seems shockingly clear: "No way they have the
right to control the access I'm paying for!"
To a Comcast executive, it's a bit less clear. These for-profit
companies are in business for one reason: to please shareholders.
Naturally, it's a lot easier to please shareholders when you're not
letting certain users download terabytes upon terabytes of data as they
please each month. But, is that right? That scenario is at the heart of
the new guidelines, but honestly, it's just the tip of the iceberg.
AT&T also made the negative nightly news a few months back when it
decided to not let the iPhone's SlingPlayer app stream video over 3G,
while the same app on Windows Mobile and BlackBerry OS have been (and
still are) streaming over its 3G network for quite some time. AT&T
simply decided that iPhone users would use too much data, and that
would in turn harm the experience of other users simply trying to make
a phone call, send a text or do a small Google search. We appreciate
AT&T looking out for some consumers, but simultaneously detest them
for flat-out throttling others.
The new FCC chairman has clearly had enough of these games. In just a
few hours, he'll spark up a speech at The Brookings Institute, where he
will "propose a new so-called net neutrality rule Monday that could
telecommunications, cable and wireless companies from blocking Internet
applications." He isn't expected to really dig into many details, but
the message is clear: he wants the power to be re-adjusted from the ISP
to the consumer, and he wants all that "unlimited access" that we're
paying for to really be "unlimited access." Specifically, the new
guidelines will act to "prevent the operators from discriminating, or
act as gatekeepers, of Web content and services."
We can only imagine that suits at major cable companies and
telecommunications firms are scrambling over the weekend to come up
with some sort of rebuttal. In AT&T's eyes, for example, if
everyone is suddenly allowed to use SlingPlayer and Google Voice, they
stand to lose a lot of revenue and could see their networks get
hammered. The latter is even bad for the consumer. Do you really want
AT&T's network quality to become even worse? But it begs the
question: with all these new users that AT&T has been picking up
since the launch of the iPhone, where has that money been going? Rather
than using new subscriber fees to re-invest in its network, it seems as
if the company has been pocketing the difference while expecting
consumers to simply "live with" their legacy network infrastructure that is not meeting demand as it exists today. Hopefully the FCC can change all of that, but you can bet these
carriers won't go down without a long, vocal fight.