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“So Stop Breaking It!”

Posted by susabelle at 8:29 AM on December 9, 2009

netneutralityWe’ve all heard that phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, Joel Kelsey, of the Consumer’s Union, has a different answer to ISP’s that claim we don’t need net neutrality policies because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” His statement to the big ISP’s: “So, stop breaking it!”

At issue is the FCC’s new proposed net neutrality rules. They include (but are not limited to) the following:

•No blocking. ISPs would not be allowed to block any online content, including features, apps and other Web-based innovations that develop in the future (spam, viruses and the like excluded).
•No favoritism. ISPs would not be allowed to give preferential treatment to their own content. And no price-gouging of customers who don’t want to buy their stuff.
•No discrimination. That means an ISP can’t slow down, speed up or otherwise discriminate among online traffic. They’d have to treat a start-up just as they treat Google and themselves.
•Wireless, too. Net neutrality would apply to all broadband platforms, including wireless.
•Full disclosure. To keep online traffic flowing smoothly, an ISP might be allowed to slow down some transmissions – say, e-mail – but it would have to say so publicly.

According to the Forrester Research Group, four ISP’s (Verizon, ATT, Comcast, and Time Warner) control 46% of the Internet pipe we all use; only six ISP’s (telecom and cable) control 65% of the pipe. That’s a pretty stunning number. With those big companies in control, and no rules in place to keep our Internet traffic flowing, the situation is ripe for abuse. And it is being abused. How many iPhone apps have not been approved because the app is providing something in direct competition with Apple or AT&T? How many times are users forced into going through an ISP’s portal in a very direct, advertising filled, locked-in way before they can go where they want on the ‘net? And how many of us suspect and/or can prove that their downloads of free content have been throttled while your ISP pay-for-play content streams in just fine?

Right now, the big guys (or really, any ISP), can throttle any content they want. The only repercussions they receive are customer complaints, and it’s not like most of us can go to another provider. There are only two in my area for wired broadband, Charter Communications (currently in bankruptcy and has a very poor customer service history) and ATT DSL. I use DSL and have good speeds and no problems, although I understand that this is unusual. If ATT throttles my use, my only other choice is Charter, which has fast speeds, IF it is up and running (big IF in my experience). If Charter throttles, then where am I supposed to go? The ISP’s have us over a barrel, and that is not going to end anytime soon. Wireless broadband is even worse in the way it is throttled and locked down. The big ISP’s have shown no signs of truly embracing net neutrality on their own, which may mean regulation is necessary, in the long run.

We’ll see what happens. The FCC is currently mulling its choices on the matter, and no official policy statement or regulation has yet been yet issued. However, some sort of action will be forthcoming. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” argument is old and worn and furthermore, does not work. Net neutrality is broken, and needs to be fixed, before further throttling and lock-downs occur.