Get interested already

ComcastComcast won a little victory in court allowing it to continue to throttle high-demand services like Bit Torrent without the FCC being able to get involved. Comcast loves the ruling and promises to keep the net available and fast for most customers. Net neutrality advocates say the FCC had better jump in right now to keep ISPs from running roughshod over the Internet.

The whole net neutrality thing raises some interesting questions. Are ISPs “common carriers” thus subject to the rules that govern telecom? Or, are the ISPs private companies that built their own infrastructures, in exchange for monopolies, and can run traffic any way they see fit?

Figuring this out will be up to the courts, but one thing is certain: There is absolutely no way we can allow any entity to “own” the Internet or access to it.

The real nightmare scenarios start emerging as entities like Comcast acquire content creators like NBC. Imagine if Comcast could assign KOMO to channel 652 and KIRO to channel 724 – keeping KING on 5 (still branding with a number – eesh) and then going even further by giving Hulu big bandwidth on broadband and competitors dialup speeds. Ooops, Netflix isn’t available, guess you’ll have to go back to the on demand or pay-per-view menu. See the problems?

Nobody is saying Comcast would do that, but the potential exists for uncompetitive business practices to emerge as pipe owners form alliances with or acquire content owners – all to the detriment of a free and open Internet. This is why a whole new area of law and rulemaking is going to have to emerge as the lines between broadcast, cable, ISPs and telecom converge.

I think the answer may be to throw out the rulebook and start over with some overarching principals in mind: That competition is good for consumers, that encouraging content development is crucial, that the government should have no say in content, that bandwidth should be distributed equally, and that ISPs should be able to throttle bandwidth down only for specific entities or services that threaten network performance for all, that extending service to underserved areas will require some kind of subsidy and that overbuilding existing systems by competitors is encouraged.

Some of those principles may be way off once market forces start to cook, but allowing the pipe owner to call all the shots can’t be allowed – particularly if they have dogs in the fight when it comes to content.

I hope this inspires you to read articles about the National Broadband Plan, the Justice Department’s review of the NBC/Comcast merger, and gets you thinking about your position as a consumer.