Saturday, August 2, 2008

Back Off the Internet -- FCC to Comcast

Comcast, the largest cable company in the
U.S., had claimed that BitTorrent traffic consumed a disproportionate
amount of its network's bandwidth, degrading the Internet access of
other customers. To 'fix' this, Comcast had installed equipment that
slowed down, not block -- file transfers using BitTorrent. This move
led public advocacy groups Free Press and Public Knowledge to file a
complaint against the network provider, a complaint that the Federal
Communications Commission upheld against Comcast.

"We are preserving the open character of the Internet," Kevin J.
Martin, the F.C.C chairman told New York Times. He added the motion was
a message to all communication companies that they "can't block people
from getting access to any content and any applications."

This issue highlights a broader topic of
network neutrality -- a principle that posits that all content, sites,
and platforms be treated equally, such that access to publically
available infomation is not hindered in any way. Net neutrality is thus
about equal access to the Internet, regardless of where you are
connecting from or what equipment you are using, or indeed, which
applications. On the other side of the fence are network operators
toying with the idea of favouring one application over another: a P2P
packet stream, over say, a UDP packet carrying a video conference. So
is data created equal?

The debate rages on, as Wall Street Journal through its editorial page states:
"There's no evidence that Comcast was trying to suppress a political
view or favor one of its own services. By all appearances, the
company's policies were motivated by nothing more than making sure a
tiny percentage of bandwidth hogs didn't slow down Internet traffic for
everyone else on the network. Giving the government more say in network
management, by contrast, introduces all kinds of potential for
political mischief. Net neutrality is a slippery slope toward
interventions of all kinds -- not merely over access but ultimately
over content."

Andy Kessler of the Wall Street Journal earlier labelled
net neutrality a bad idea -- "[...]because the only thing [net
neutrality] will preserve is mediocrity via the lack of competition...
With net neutrality, there will be no new competition and no incentives
for build outs. Bandwidth speeds will stagnate, and new services will
wither from bandwidth starvation."

In an interview with Ars Technica, Jay Monahan, an attorney argued
that -- "If net neutrality means anything, it means not that each of us
is made equal in the marketplace, but that at least we have an equal
set of rules that are transparent to all of us in order to compete."

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