More on Net Neutrality Regulation: Suppose Free Press Called a Crisis and Nobody Noticed?…

by on April 6, 2010 · 9 comments

In the wake of yesterday’s ruling in the D.C. Circuit that the FCC had exceeded its authority in attempting to regulate access to the Internet, I did a number of radio interviews and a radio debate with Derek Turner of Free Press, a leading advocate of Internet regulation.

The debate was a brief, fair exchange of views. I was struck, though, to hear Turner refer to the situation as a “crisis.” Sure enough, in a Free Press release, Turner says three times that the ruling creates a “crisis.”

Recall that in 2007 Comcast degraded the service it provided to a tiny group of customers using a bandwidth-hogging protocol called BitTorrent. Recall also that before the FCC acted, Comcast had stopped doing this, relenting to customer complaints, negative attention in news stories, and such.

In the wake of the D.C. Circuit ruling and the crisis it has created, Internet users can expect the following changes to their Internet service: None.

Wow. With crises like these, who needs tranquility?

“As a result of this decision, the FCC has virtually no power to stop Comcast from blocking Web sites,” the release intones.

That would be worrisome, though still not much of a crisis—except that Comcast would be undercutting its own business by doing that. Did you know also that no federal regulation bars people from burning their furniture in the backyard? That’s the same kind of problem.

As Tim Lee points out in his paper, “The Durable Internet,” consumer pressures are likely in almost all cases to rein in undesirable ISP practices. Computer scientist Lee presents examples of how ownership of communications platforms does not imply control. If an ISP persists in maintaining a harmful practice contrary to consumer demand—and consumers can’t express their desires by switching to another service—we can talk then.

In the meantime, this “crisis” has me slightly drowsy and eager to go outside and enjoy the spring weather.

  • MikeRT

    I honestly wonder if these buffoons even know that BitTorrent is not a “web site…”

    So far, Comcast and the other big players have shown no signs of trying to block websites and other popular protocols, only less popular protocols which have a high frequency of being used for illegal purposes.

  • http://www.indigoshowers.co.uk steam showers

    It would be great if it was possible to police the internet!

    However i cannot see this being possible – ever!

  • sbma44

    I respect Tim's paper greatly, but I think it makes a much stronger case for the implausibility of ISP censorship than it does for the implausibility of ISP rent-seeking.

    I think you're right that yesterday's decision isn't likely to produce overnight changes, even for Bittorrent users. I think the ISPs will continue to be on their best behavior, at least until after a legislative NN proposal rises and falls. But after that… after that, I think it will be interesting to see what happens. I suspect that Hulu, Boxee, Tivo and other going to start feeling some sort of pressure via network management within a year or two.

  • Brett Glass

    The ruling creates a “crisis” for only one entity: Google, the corporation for which Free Press lobbies. It leaves the door open for competitors to enter Google's markets.

    The ruling doesn't create a crisis for Free Press, though. In fact, Mr. Turner and his fellow astroturf lobbyists at Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, and the New America Foundation are probably dancing with glee! More battles to fight! And, hence, more big bucks to fight them!

    They'll probably be burning their old furniture in the backyard, alright, because they'll have lots of money to buy newer and fancier furniture.

  • sbma44

    I respect Tim's paper greatly, but I think it makes a much stronger case for the implausibility of ISP censorship than it does for the implausibility of ISP rent-seeking.

    I think you're right that yesterday's decision isn't likely to produce overnight changes, even for Bittorrent users. I think the ISPs will continue to be on their best behavior, at least until after a legislative NN proposal rises and falls. But after that… after that, I think it will be interesting to see what happens. I suspect that Hulu, Boxee, Tivo and other going to start feeling some sort of pressure via network management within a year or two.

  • Brett Glass

    The ruling creates a “crisis” for only one entity: Google, the corporation for which Free Press lobbies. It leaves the door open for competitors to enter Google's markets.

    The ruling doesn't create a crisis for Free Press, though. In fact, Mr. Turner and his fellow astroturf lobbyists at Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, and the New America Foundation are probably dancing with glee! More battles to fight! And, hence, more big bucks to fight them!

    They'll probably be burning their old furniture in the backyard, alright, because they'll have lots of money to buy newer and fancier furniture.

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