Saturday, July 12, 2008

Net Neutrality a Rising Issue as FCC warns Comcast About File Exchange Restrictions placed on Web Use by Paying Customers

Net neutrality encompasses the idea that providers of Internet access services should not be able to place any discriminatory restrictions on web use by their users.

The issue in the instant case is a ComCast practice of restricting BitTorrent file exchanges without even informing the affected users as to the nature and extent of the practice. Since ComCast is the largest cable company in the USA, this is a significant matter.

As written by Saul Hansell in the New York Times Technology section under F.C.C. Chief Would Bar Comcast From Imposing Web Restrictions:

"Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Friday that Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, should be sanctioned because it had interfered with the Internet connections of users who were exchanging files with other people.

Mr. Martin’s recommendation is a strong push for network neutrality, the idea that Internet access providers like Comcast should not be allowed to favor some uses of their networks over others....

“The normative message is that it is wrong to block the Internet,” said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School who is the chairman of Free Press, an advocacy group that filed the complaint about Comcast for which Mr. Martin is proposing a resolution.

“The deeper message he’s sending here is that users are sovereign. If two people want to send a file between each other, the carriers are not to get in the way.”

Professor Wu said the issues at stake go back to the common-law concept of a common carrier, which defined certain businesses — from blacksmiths to ferries — as so essential to commerce that their owners could not discriminate against any paying customer.

These ancient concerns are increasingly relevant to the Internet as an ever-greater share of commerce is conducted online. Companies that sell products or offer content over the Internet have worried that without regulation, the Internet access providers might chose to offer better and faster service to some companies — perhaps those that pay for preferred treatment — than to others."

Internet service providers on the other hand are legitimately looking for solutions to the problem of heavy broadband use by Internet file exchangers in particular, e.g. in the present case:

"Comcast argues that its approach is legitimate, and that the commission does not have the authority to impose any sanctions.

“We believe that the network management technique we chose at the time was reasonable,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman. She added that Comcast had already said it planned to change its approach to dealing with heavy use. It is developing a system that will slow the Internet connections of people who are moving large amounts of data at busy times."

Read the entire article to get a good bird's eye view of the immensely significant issue of net neutrality which will become increasingly important in the future as Internet service providers battle to keep heavy file-exchanging broadband use from clogging the Internet.

We definitely support net neutrality in principle. On the other hand, we also think that Internet service providers should be permitted to have non-discriminatory means at their disposal to restrict heavy broadband use as needed in order to maintain the ability of EVERYONE to access the Internet and not have the online rights of all to be burdened by the few.

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