Friday, June 18, 2010

Linguistic Gerrymandering: The FCC Moves to Regulate the Internet

It wasn't so long ago that I argued in favor of "network neutrality", which by my definition means that ISPs should not limit or block access to certain sites or services, or give priority to sites and services they own or have business arrangements with. For example, I shouldn't have my bandwidth limited when I go to Google because Yahoo! paid AT&T to give them priority. In other words, I pay my ISP to transport and deliver packets, and the contents or final destination are none of their concern.  In theory.

In practice, I've personally operated a large TCP/IP network where I implemented "traffic shaping" to prioritize certain applications over others.  I had a limited amount of bandwidth, and it was necessary to throttle back things like file transfers to avoid slowing down our mission-critical applications. This is fine on a private network, but the question is this: Who determines what is critical traffic on the Internet? Your ISP? The government? You?

If left to the ISP, they'll most likely prioritize whatever traffic provides them the biggest revenue stream. If left to the government, it will eventually be prioritized by whoever buys the most Senators (special interests will be taken care of - see the Healthcare Bill for an example). If left to you, it may end up costing you more, but at least you'll have choices.

The real problem with Big Government regulating Internet traffic is not special interests, it is specter of the suppression of free speech. While many organizations , including the ACLU, argue that network neutrality rules would "guarantee" free speech, I simply don't trust government bureaucracy to be the arbitrator of Internet access. And government intervention will inevitably grow over time. It's far too dangerous to allow the government to insert itself between the ISPs and content.

Here is their latest move:

 "Not to be outdone, the Federal Communications Commission this morning voted 3-2 to take the first steps toward regulating the Internet. The decision comes only two months after a federal court — rather definitively – ruled that the agency had no authority to do take that step.
Specifically, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April that the Communications Act only allows the FCC to regulate “telecommunications” service.” And, since the agency has earlier concluded that broadband Internet service was NOT “telecommunications,” that means — the court decided — the FCC generally could not regulate broadband. So how does the FCC, led by Chairman Julius Genachowski, propose to get around that problem? By re-defining broadband as a “telecommunications service,” after all.
Never mind that the initial classification of broadband was the result of a years-long inquiry by the Commission. The FCC (or at least 3 out of its 5 members) wants to regulate broadband. And if only telecommunications can be regulated, then its telecommunications."

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