Saturday, January 9, 2010

Net Neutrality, Comcast, the FCC, Censorship and Freedom

"Court to FCC: You Don't Have Power to Enforce Net Neutrality"
Threat Level | privacy, crime and security online, Wired (January 8, 2010)

"A federal appeals court gave notice Friday it likely would reject the Federal Communications Commission's authority to sanction Comcast for throttling peer-to-peer applications.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit suggested as much during oral arguments from the FCC and Comcast. The Philadelphia-based cable concern is appealing the agency's 2008 decision ordering it to stop hampering the peer-to-peer service BitTorrent as a traffic-management practice.

"The move was in response to complaints Comcast was sending fake signals to users of BitTorrent, a bandwidth-heavy protocol often used to pirate copyright content...."

It seems to me that Comcast's daft practice of "sending fake signals to users of BitTorrent" is at least as much as an attempt to keep the company from shooting itself in the foot, as maintaining "net neutrality."

If I was a Comcast customer (I'm not, happily), I'd be looking at their competitors' packages right now. Even here in the heart of darkest Minnesota, we've got a reasonable selection of information service providers. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who wouldn't appreciate having his online communications hobbled: and secrets are getting really hard to keep, these days.

Can't say that I'm sorry about that.

Comcast's efforts to manage their customers out the door is in the news internationally: there's a link to the Reuters article at the end of this post.

I suppose Comcast's faking of signals to BitTorrent users comes under the heading of "net neutrality," if Comcast was sabotaging one sort of customer more than another.

Why Aren't I Cheering On the Forces of Net Neutrality and the American Way?

I remember enjoying the "Adventures of Superman," and how each episode's introduction described this "...strange visitor from another planet..." who "...fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way." (IMDB)

Of course, I was six or seven at the time.

Events in the sixties encouraged me to carefully evaluate my estimation of established institutions: American and otherwise. As a result, I didn't have a deep and abiding trust in 'the establishment' forty years ago. And I don't now.

I understand why America is one of the countries people try to break into, rather than the other way around: but I've learned to be a trifle cautious in my assumptions.

Not all that long ago, by my standards, the World Wide Web became a new global phenomenon, offering people information from around the world. It also made pornography and vitriolic screeds available: nothing new in that content, but like television a few decades earlier, the same old stuff looked new because the medium was new.

An odd coalition of fundamentalists and feminists tried to protect children and sensitive people from the Wicked, Wicked Web. Don't get me wrong: I don't approve of either pornography or what's called "hate speech."

On the other hand, I like freedom of speech. When Bible-thumpers and bra-burners joined forces in an effort to create a federal agency whose purpose would be to determine what the American public was allowed to see, say, and hear: I was concerned.

Happily, we're not 'protected' from ideas that don't meet with official approval today: but that was a close call. 'Save the children' can be an effective emotional appeal.

"Net neutrality" - if it really means a level playing field, even for people who aren't in the established power structures, sounds like a good idea. What concerns me is the possibility that a "neutrality" could be imposed, in which some ideas were more neutral than others.

It wouldn't be censorship, of course: just, well, keeping things "neutral."
"I think its clear that traditional information gatekeepers like journalists no longer have a near-monopoly on determining what the rest of us are allowed to see and hear.

"That kind of freedom is messy and demands effort, but I think it's worth it."
"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."
Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, 1791
3rd president of US (1743 - 1826)) The Quotations Page
(Another War-on-Terror Blog (June 24, 2009))
Somewhat-related posts: In the news:

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