A big battle is happening over Internet service so, naturally, people have added large dollops of fear and misinformation and are shouting about it on Facebook. On December 21, the FCC will finally vote on adopting net neutrality rules. This may (or may not) have been caused by Comcast's spat with Level 3 now that Level 3 won a big contract to handle Netflix's video streaming.
Grind it all together, output it to Facebook and you get this campaign: "Save the Internet: Stop Comcast from Blocking Netflix. Without strong net neutrality rules, companies like Comcast can demand fees from innovative companies like Netflix in an attempt to choke consumer freedom and coerce users to adopt its own video services instead."
Comcast wouldn't mind if its streaming video was faster than Netflix
Comcast insists that this has nothing to do with blocking the upstart Netflix's business but about how much of Level 3's traffic it must carry before it gets to send Level 3 a bill [PDF]. Level 3's traffic has greatly increased thanks to Netflix.
On Thursday, Comcast's frienemy, Time Warner, issued a statement of support for Comcast that eloquently explained the pro-cable provider side of the fight.
"The recent news regarding the negotiations between Level 3 and Comcast has raised many questions about the way peering agreements are negotiated between Network Operators and has been inappropriately lumped into the issue of network neutrality. These agreements have been and continue to be negotiated based on the amounts of traffic, not the type, being delivered to each party’s network by the other.
"When the amount of traffic being delivered between two networks is generally balanced a 'Settlement Free' peering agreement is likely the result. However, when the amount of traffic is not balanced, it is commonplace for the network operator receiving the greater level of traffic to insist on compensation for the added costs that are faced as a result. Again, the issue in these negotiations is the amount, not the type of data being transported. Additionally, regardless of whether two Network Operators reach an agreement, end users will still be able to receive any data or content they wish to reach as that traffic will find an alternate route over other available interconnecting networks.
"Because there is no discrimination among different types of content, and no blocking of content, peering agreements between Network Operators don’t raise Net Neutrality issues and have never been part of the Net Neutrality debate."
To add juice to that argument, Comcast this week said it actually supports the FCC's proposed rules. Note that the rules could allow ISPs to do some traffic rationing.
The issue is reaching fever pitch, jump started because the FCC commissioner wants a vote to take place before the new Congress arrives in 2011. Funny, just announcing the meeting's agenda caused every FCC commissioner to immediately issue a statement with Republicans (predictably) opposed and Democrats (predictably) in favor.
And now, every oddball group is jumping in to add to the net neutrality hype. We've gotten press releases this week from groups as diverse as The Hispanic Leadership Fund (opposed) to the National Medical Association (in favor).