Category Archives: Net Neutrality

Is CNN Calling For Curbs On Free Speech?

On July 23, 2010, CNN anchors Kyra Phillips and John Roberts discussed on air the idea that bloggers should be somehow “held accountable” or perhaps regulated in some way. Here’s the video of that exchange.

It’s no secret that CNN and other so-called mainstream media outlets, both broadcast and print, have had for some time now an ongoing loss of viewers and readers. A number of traditional journalists from time to time have had and expressed an almost open hostility towards bloggers and the Internet. They perceive the Internet as a threat to their business models, and their vaunted self-appointed job as information “gatekeepers.”

If you look back over the past few years, almost every major story, particularly scandal stories, originated first on blogs. In many cases the mainstream media were dragged kicking and screaming into reporting stories. The clearly forged National Guard documents that ultimately ended up forcing CBS to fire evening news anchor Dan Rather comes to mind from a few years ago. Bloggers quickly picked up on the fact that the supposed National Guard documents had been typed up in the default template for Microsoft Word and then ran through a fax and/or copy machine a number of times to make the documents look dirty and/or old. The trouble was, Microsoft Word didn’t exist in 1973. If it weren’t for bloggers, this story would have likely never come to public light, and what is clearly a forgery and a made-up story would have passed into the public mind as the truth.

Should free speech be curbed? Should bloggers somehow be licensed or officially regulated in what is purportedly a free country? Should we be forced to get our news from “professional” or even “licensed” journalists?

“So Stop Breaking It!”

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.

FCC stands up for Net Neutrality

The NY Times is reporting that the FCC has found that Comcast’s aggresive blocking of BitTorrent traffic has violated the FCC’s open access rules. What the penalty will be will not be known until August once the full board has met.

This ruling sets a fantastic precedent, while every ISP shapes traffic to some extent if they are too aggresive or indiscreet with their actions the FCC will step up and penalise them. Comcast is of course not saying they will stop packet shaping altogether but rather that they will instead experiment with other packet shaping techniques.

This ruling does not ban any packet shaping of Internet traffic, in fact it acknowledges that traffic shaping is a valid action for ISPs to take. What it means is that ISPs must detail the techniques they use. ISPs must also show that the shaping is designed to improve traffic flow without targetting any specific group, sites or protocols. Good news on balance I would say.