FCC Chairman To Smack Down ISPs That Throttle Data

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 about 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 P2P applications. 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 prevent 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.