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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Column: Neutered neutrality

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court overturned a 2008 FCC ruling that made it illegal for Comcast to block or inhibit certain types of Internet traffic through its network. The ruling was enacted as a response to a 2007 finding that Comcast blocked uploads via file sharing services such as BitTorrent, regardless of whether or not the shared content was legal.

It’s often upsetting when Ayn Randian anti-regulators get their way, especially after Justice Antonin Scalia and company ruled in January that corporations are essentially people when it comes to campaign finance – not to mention the web of lending de-regulation that led to the current financial crisis in the first place. As Internet service providers like Comcast Corp. and anti-regulatory Republicans rejoice, this court decision frightens both web owners and consumers alike – and consumers are right to be worried.

If Internet service providers can potentially tie their Internet tubes in the future, consumers will likely be forced to pay for various online services that require more data flow. The catch is that even though Comcast claims to have no plans to restrict Internet usage again, it could if it wanted to.

ISP monopolies are already troublesome for those whose Internet choices are more or less limited to a Comcast subscription, school WiFi or a life at Starbucks. This, however, will potentially affect anyone using the BitTorrent service to share large-scale projects, watch HD video or use any other intensive service. Moreover, ISPs could potentially sell faster Internet speeds to paying websites like YouTube, essentially granting traffic control to the higher bidder.

Comcast’s vice president of government communications Sena Fitzmaurice told the LA Times on Tuesday that “Comcast remains committed to the FCC’s existing open Internet principles, and … will continue to work constructively with this FCC as it determines how best to increase broadband adoption and preserve an open and vibrant Internet.”

This is, of course, totally believable-if it doesn’t apply to Comcast. The fact remains that Comcast blocked its customers from uploading via BitTorrent without notifying its subscribers and deliberately avoided direct admittance to the practice to the FCC.

The FCC simply needs more power to regulate ISP limitations on net neutrality. It doesn’t help that the court’s decision fell on a mere technicality – whether the FCC itself could make regulatory decisions. The original FCC rules, for that matter, read a little bit like a professor desperately trying to find the “start slideshow” function in Microsoft PowerPoint. It’s no wonder Congress still uses foam core board presentations on the Senate floor.

The decision ultimately rests with Congress itself, which will add the issue to its already large list of potential reforms. It’s unfortunate, then, that Congress still houses so much of the anti-regulatory, series-of-tubes crowd. Just last year, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the “Internet Freedom Act” that would essentially do exactly the opposite of what its name implied – freedom for ISPs to manage the Internet as they see fit without government regulation.

After all, as Fitzmaurice stated, Comcast’s “primary goal was always to clear [their] name and reputation.” They got just that on Tuesday – just as long as they don’t think they did anything wrong.

JUSTIN T. HO wonders why Comcast, despite being the largest cable provider in the U.S., also has one of the ugliest websites in the industry. E-mail arts@theaggie.org if your Comcast subscription isn’t temporarily down.



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