Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On the FCC Comcast Ruling...

The courts said today that the FCC doesn't have the jurisdiction over the Internet that they claim to, and Comcast is off the hook for packet-filtering BitTorrent traffic.

Jeff Jarvis fretted thusly in response:
Here’s the rub: On the one hand, I do not want government regulation of the internet. On the other hand, I do not want monopoly discrimination against bits on the internet. I see it as a principle that all bits are, indeed, created equal. But how is this enforced when internet service is provided by monopolies? Regulation. But I don’t want regulation. But… That is the vicious cycle of the net neutrality debate.
I completely share his sentiment, but I am far from equating these two sides (government vs. business). Here's why.

Depending on where you live, ISPs may be a monopoly, an oligopoly, or a dynamic and competitive market. Government, however, is by definition, always a monopoly. I'll take my chances with the market until we start seeing some real abuses, thanks. "But what about the BitTorrent packet-filtering from Comcast?", you may ask. Well, remember that the data to show Comcast was packet-filtering the BitTorrents came from end-users with free tools, not a federal agency. Comcast has stated pretty loudly that they had no plans to return to filtering peer-to-peer traffic, and they would be wise not to, considering the rage it would put their customers in. The end users, equipped with the Internet itself, are a pretty formidable force. And even Comcast's most captive audience won't be captive forever.

Case in point: If you were wondering why Google is lining up 5 communities to get Gigabit to the home, this is the reason. Google's certainly not going to wait around and let 1) the ISPs set the speed limit on the Internet, or 2) have the government start wading into the arena like Godzilla into Tokyo Harbor. Comcast (and other ISPs) claim they need to filter the data flowing through their networks in order to preserve speed and quality of service to the majority of their customers. This excuse will wear pretty thin when they are competing with connections 10-20 times faster than premium connections they are currently offering.

This is one area where I'm just not worried about the evil corporations. The government has never come close to showing that it can either act quickly enough or wisely enough to prevent abuses from ISPs without hindering real innovation in the process. And real competition (in the form of a trailblazing Google) is on the horizon for the ISP incumbents. Our Internet is going to be just fine, and I'd hate to have us jumping scared and inviting regulation in to combat threats that aren't really there.

1 comment:

  1. Also remember that the ISPs are providing a service. Just like any restaurant, department store, or any other retailer (they're "selling" data transmission) they have every right to choose who to serve and who not to, and what to transport and what not to.

    The answer isn't greater regulation, it's less. Right now, all regulation accomplishes is to keep the little guy from entering the market. Remember back in dial-up days when anyone who wanted to could be an ISP? If those days came back (at the broadband scale) don't you think the idea of certain packets being censored would become rather moot?

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