Comcast and BitTorrent are working together to improve the delivery of video files on Comcast’s broadband network.
Rather than slow traffic by certain types of applications — such as file-sharing software or companies like BitTorrent — Comcast will slow traffic for those users who consume the most bandwidth, said Comcast’s [Chief Technology Officer, Tony] Warner. Comcast hopes to be able to switch to a new policy based on this model as soon as the end of the year, he added. The company’s push to add additional data capacity to its network also will play a role, he said. Comcast will start with lab tests to determine if the model is feasible.
Over at Public Knowledge, Jef Pearlman argues that the pioneering joint effort by Comcast and BitTorrent “changes nothing about the issues raised in petitions” before the FCC advocating more regulation, because Comcast and BitTorrent are “commercial entities whose goals are, in the end, to make sure that their networks and technology are as profitale as possible.”
Setting aside whether the pursuit of profit is a good thing or not, what this episode actually proves is that the Federal Communications Commission has done its job, the threat of regulation is a credible deterrent to prevent unreasonable discrimination by broadband service providers and we don’t need a new regulatory framework with the unintended consequences which regulation always entails.
If we want innovation, more choices and ultimately lower prices we have to be prepared to allow broadband service providers to experiment and to succeed or fail in the market. Regulation always discourages all three.
We also need an enforcement backstop, of course. But it doesn’t have to be formalistic and inflexible.
Aside from FCC authority under the Communications Act of 1934 as amended, the professional staff of the Federal Trade Commission has concluded that antitrust law is “well-equipped to analyze potential conduct and business arrangements involving broadband Internet access.”
Here at the Tech Policy Summit in Hollywood, one panelist claimed during a breakout session that antitrust enforecement in this area is impaired as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Verizon v. Trinko (2004). But it isn’t so.
In that case, the plaintiff was trying to convert an alleged breach of the Communications Act into an antitrust claim under §2 of the Sherman Act. In other words, the plaintiff was trying to expand the application of antitrust jurisprudence. The Court ruled that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 neither expanded nor limited the antitrust laws.
The 1996 Act has no effect upon the application of traditional antitrust principles. Its saving clause–which provides that “nothing in this Act … shall be construed to modify, impair, or supersede the applicability of any of the antitrust laws,” 47 U. S. C. §152–preserves claims that satisfy established antitrust standards, but does not create new claims that go beyond those standards.
The Court went on to conclude that the activity of Verizon which Trinko complained of did not violate pre-existing antitrust standards.
The bottom line is that we have three federal agencies, which include the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice in addition to the two previously mentioned, who have the jurisdiction, expertise and some actual experience to intervene if broadband providers unreasonably discriminate.
Groups like Public Knowledge have done a great job and can declare victory now.