A Blow to Net Neutrality?

Be interesting to see where this goes:

A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt a sharp blow to the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to set the rules of the road for the Internet, ruling that the agency lacks the authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks.

The decision, by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, specifically concerned the efforts of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, to slow down customers’ access to a service called BitTorrent, which is used to exchange large video files, most often pirated copies of movies.

After Comcast’s blocking was exposed, the F.C.C. told Comcast to stop discriminating against BitTorrent traffic and in 2008 issued broader rules for the industry regarding “net neutrality,” the principle that all Internet content should be treated equally by network providers. Comcast challenged the F.C.C.’s authority to issue such rules and argued that its throttling of BitTorrent was necessary to ensure that a few customers did not unfairly hog the capacity of the network, slowing down Internet access for all of its customers.

But Tuesday’s court ruling has far larger implications than just the Comcast case.

The ruling would allow Comcast and other Internet service providers to restrict consumers’ ability to access certain kinds of Internet content, such as video sites like Hulu.com or Google’s YouTube service, or charge certain heavy users of their networks more money for access.

Will they pass legislation? Anyone know how important a priority this is for Congress?






39 replies
  1. 1
    Remfin says:

    The FCC sets categories of regulation and Internet providers were under a less-strenuous one. All that will happen now is the FCC will re-categorize them into a more-strenuous one that would without a doubt permit them to enforce the rule. In fact, that’s what the FCC said it would do when this lawsuit was first filed if it lost.

  2. 2
    tofubo says:

    whatever they do, it’ll be for the benefit of the owners of the pipe, not the users

    and it’ll need more cowbell

  3. 3
    Keith G says:

    I am hoping that this lights a fire under the notion that we need better legislation passed. Hoping.

  4. 4
    demo woman says:

    Remfin Thank you for the explanation and I so hope that your are right. Murdoch would pay gadzillions to get faster times than CNN and the NYTimes.

  5. 5

    I was following it, but since dems won congress and the WH, congressional action was put on the back burner. I don’t know how many petitions I signed to congress in general and individual dem senator’s in particular, but it was a passel back in 07.

    I suspect now it will become more important. And I cannot see at this late date of the internet becoming so used nation wide, that people will rollover easy letting the telecoms fuck with their internet much. Maybe if it had started that way in the beginning, but not now. The backlash would affect repubs as well as dems./ And before the FCC put out new regs in 2008, most dem senators were coming onboard to back net neutrality, though wingers being insane at the moment, who knows what they will do.

  6. 6
    Andy says:

    Just point out that, under this ruling, Microsoft could conceivably restrict users of its Internet Explorer browser to accessing its corporate news partner, MSNBC, and could block or charge extra for accessing Fox News or Drudge.

    What do you suppose Limbaugh and Beck might have to say about that?

  7. 7
    Kennedy says:

    I really doubt we would see anything from Congress anytime remotely soon even if it was absolutely necessary, especially considering all the other things they have on their plate.

    I think it’s getting to the point where the internet is basically a necessity. You need it for school, you need it for work, you need it for…pretty much everything. I’d love to see a roll-out of a public works project where we stand up nationwide public wi-fi. I’d pay higher taxes for that.

    But you know, socialism and all that. And it would infringe upon the profits of the poor telecoms.

  8. 8
    Zifnab says:

    Will they pass legislation? Anyone know how important a priority this is for Congress?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    You’re joking, right? After the Shit’s Cool Act of 2008 in response to warrant-less wiretapping, you’re honestly going to suggest a law strengthening the FCC is going to pass Congress in the next five years?

    It is to laugh.

  9. 9
    demo woman says:

    Fox News actually painted this as a win for consumers. Fox news viewers actually believe this so imo we’re screwed. The tea baggers are making new signs as we type/read, Leave my web alone.

  10. 10

    What @Remfin said. This isn’t striking down any law from how I read it. Basically, the FCC put them in a new category. And now they will be returned to a more rigorously regulated category that is covered by regulations that are constitutional. Comcast just spent a lot of money on lawyers so they could now be more tightly regulated.

  11. 11
    Jon says:

    I subjected myself to the horrors of the Hannity Forum thread on this topic and I still can’t get over what I read.

    “Free markets! If your ISP is bad, everyone has a phone line! Plug in and go dial-up!”

    Glenn works fast. What this means is that conservative websites will not be scrubbed off the Internet and our Hannity Forum will not be shut down while Democratic Underground gets to keep theirs.

    There are a lot of problems with net neutrality. Treating all data the same will have other implications. Video on demand would be slower because spam email needs to have “equal access”. VOIP would be effected as routers put your conversations on hold to shuffle web page images.

    To be fair there are more than a few non-idiots trying to tell these dopes that censorship and a free internet are at stake here, but still. Holy crap.

  12. 12
    Violet says:

    @ Andy:

    Just point out that, under this ruling, Microsoft could conceivably restrict users of its Internet Explorer browser to accessing its corporate news partner, MSNBC, and could block or charge extra for accessing Fox News or Drudge.

    What do you suppose Limbaugh and Beck might have to say about that?

    “Freedom isn’t free.”

  13. 13
    Zifnab says:

    I suspect now it will become more important. And I cannot see at this late date of the internet becoming so used nation wide, that people will rollover easy letting the telecoms fuck with their internet much.

    Depends on how it was accomplished. If you simply freeze the internet as it stands and tier up any future service, I can easily see the richer internet denizens simply paying for the upgrade while the poorer users are left in the dust.

    You can see it in the cell phone market, with phone service versus unlimited text versus 2G / 3G / 4G networks. Tiered service, with each bracket costing you $20-$30 to enter. It creates an entire cast system of regular phone users, texters, and PDA users.

    Just point out that, under this ruling, Microsoft could conceivably restrict users of its Internet Explorer browser to accessing its corporate news partner, MSNBC, and could block or charge extra for accessing Fox News or Drudge.

    In that case, you’d have an exodus to Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. IE isn’t sacred, and I don’t think Microsoft really wants to risk their market share any more than they already have. A mass switch away from Windows product would have a devastating impact on market share.

    It’s easy to change browsers. Much harder to change actual cable lines.

  14. 14
    Warren Terra says:

    Yeah, no chance that Congress deals with this. Given the enormous amount of money and power that would oppose Net Neutrality legislation, combined with the Republicans just opposing everything indiscriminately, I can’t see a way – especially as I don’t think that there are any Republicans who are particularly dedicated to Net Neutrality, which would pretty much be a requirement for overcoming either of those impediments, let alone both of them. All the opponents of Net Neutrality need to do is to see that nothing happens, after all – that’s much easier than actually shaping legislation.

    It’s a shame, really, because even if the FCC is able to overcome this ruling and mandate Net Neutrality (either with a ruling from a higher court or using the revised regulatory mechanisms mentioned upthread), then some future FCC, with commissioners appointed by a less-enlightened administration, will be able to reverse the decision.

    On the other hand, do we really trust even our own side in Congress, let alone the other side, to assemble a majority for a clean Net Neutrality law?

  15. 15
    Zifnab says:

    @Jon:

    And the tubes! For the love of heaven, the tubes! They’ll get totally clogged.

    The internet is not a big truck, people! It’s not something you can just dump something on! IT’S A SERIES OF TUBES!

  16. 16
  17. 17

    Fox News actually painted this as a win for consumers.

    When Pete Dominici was still my senator, he was pushing this ass backward dishonest tripe of “don’t let the government regulate the internet and mess it up” when of course the government was promoting leaving it alone with free access like it currently is. And not letting telecoms fuck it up.

    One day I heard him drooling along about it on the senate floor and in a pique of anger called one of his offices here in NM and read a staffer the riot act to stop lying. I later wondered if I went too far and might get a visit from the men in black.

  18. 18
    Bob K says:

    Where will this go? Kind of like the shopkeeper the first time the mafia visits. Nice Blog you’ve got here Mr. Cole – it’d be a shame if something happened to it. Wink Wink Nudge Nudge Say No More

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRm5WcjOikQ

  19. 19
    demo woman says:

    General Egali Tarian Stuck, How would the repubs win an election if they didn’t lie?

  20. 20
    Kennedy says:

    Don’t forget about this little gem: McCain’s Internet Freedom Act

    “This government takeover of the Internet will stifle innovation, in turn slowing our economic turnaround and further depressing an already anemic job market.”

    You almost have to admire their ability to lithely spew such complete and utter bull shit.

  21. 21
    mikey says:

    Look. The court’s right. The regulations that the FCC sought to enforce did not have the power of law – more guidelines than anything. The court said essentially “if you want to enforce a law or a regulation, you have to have the legislation or regulatory authority to back it up. You don’t”.

    But Comcast loses by winning. As has been mentioned here, FCC has up til now classified the internet as an “information service”, with very limited regulation. It’s a simple matter to reclassify ISPs as telecom companies, and believe me, they do NOT want that. The big issue is that it would require them to open up access to their infrastructure like the telephone companies must do.

    So with the power to win by decree, I expect the FCC will attempt to negotiate something binding. They can walk off the field with a win anytime they want to….

  22. 22
    Martin says:

    I really do enjoy how the first amendment proponents and constitutional worshippers routinely find themselves cheerleading for being on the back end of corporate censorship.

    That said, I really do want the FCC to play a stronger hand here. Our cell infrastructure is fucked beyond all reason and access to high-speed is a crapshoot. I’ve got great high-speed at my house, but in the middle of OC I can’t get a cell signal to save my life. My dad up in Oregon has exactly the opposite situation, so I can’t use my cell phone to call him and he can’t use Skype. It’s like living in prehistoric times – like 1993 or something.

  23. 23
    scarshapedstar says:

    Anyone know how important a priority this is for Congress?

    Um… somewhere below the Federal Toothpaste Stripe Color Uniformity Act.

  24. 24

    Thanks mikey. The smartest people comment on this blog, it is where i learns stuff.

  25. 25
    Aaron says:

    Fox News actually painted this as a win for consumers. Fox news viewers actually believe this so imo we’re screwed. The tea baggers are making new signs as we type/read, Leave my web alone.

    “Keep the Government out of my ARPA-Net” – has a delightful symmetry with “Keep the government out of Medicare.”

    I am going to go read “What’s the Matter with Kansas” again and contemplate what can be done about people being so FSM-damned stupid

  26. 26
    randiego says:

    I’ve had the opportunity to read one of the telecom’s briefs regarding NN – I recommend it. The telecoms aren’t always the bad guys they are made out to be. The explosion of traffic due to the advent of smartphones is presenting challenges not entirely anticipated by the telecoms, and they are grasping at solutions to to try to keep customers happy – packet shaping and QOS among them.

    As an example, there was an article about AT&T having to add temporary towers and bandwidth at SXSW this year so that smartphone users would have a satisfactory experience. (we’re talking iPhone users, which are theoretically a top customer, yes?)

    I’m just saying that the challenges telecoms are facing are difficult. I have no sympathy for any kind of tiered content selection/pricing scheme that may be contemplated.

  27. 27
    burnspbesq says:

    @Aaron:

    contemplate what can be done about people being so FSM-damned stupid

    Not very much, I’m afraid. What we are dealing with on the right is not the sort of ignorance that can be cured. It’s willful stupidity, which is impenetrable if the stupid-heads refuse to acknowledge that they’re being stupid. None so blind as those that will not see.

  28. 28
    Little Dreamer says:

    @ General Egali Tarian Stuck:
    __

    wingers being insane at the moment, who knows what they will do.

    winger: “Take my internet, PLEASE!”

    I wouldn’t be surprised anymore. ;)

  29. 29
    David in NY says:

    I actually think Congress has been pretty good on this. And if the FCC wants to change its mind about how it treats the internet, as Jack Balkin and remfin above suggest, they better justify what they are doing pretty carefully. The court’s tend to get skeptical about how they’re exercising their authority when they flip their views.

  30. 30
    Little Dreamer says:

    @ Andy:

    Internet Explorer? Are people still using that antiquated thing?

    Ahahahahaha!

  31. 31
    Snarky Pickles says:

    Zifnab wrote:

    In that case, you’d have an exodus to Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.

    You miss my point entirely — that was only an example that most any user could understand.

    The point is that, without net neutrality, any ISP (or, presumably, software provider) could pick and choose what sites their users can access, whether or not to impose additonal throttling (access fees, download limits, etc.).

    It will be a clusterfuck.

  32. 32
    BombIranForChrist says:

    This is going to be pretty interesting.

    In many places, Comcast is basically a monopoly when it comes to fast internet access. So I can definitely see a situation where Comcast would strangle bit torrent traffic, and when people complain, Comcast would basically say, “go somewhere else”, knowing fully well that they are the only game in town for fast speeds.

    Also, since places like Hulu and Netflix on Demand are essentially budding competitors to Comcast, you can very easily see Comcast strangling those pipes as well, but I dunno … they run a risk that by strangling popular services, people will start complaining to their congresswankers, and then it’s all over for the gravy train.

    Interesting times.

  33. 33
    Steve Finlay says:

    The court is right. “Net neutrality” has always meant one thing, and one thing only: Bandwidth pigs get a free ride, and low volume users pay for it. People act as if the infrastructure to support millions of BitTorrent users is free. That is bull crap.

    All the usual talk about “freedom” and “control” in relation to “net neutrality” is nonsense. What is truly neutral is very simple: You use more; you pay more.

  34. 34
    RobertB says:

    @Steve

    That’s not what we’re talking about when we’re talking about Net Neutrality. We’re talking about allowing ISPs to prioritize or block packets moving through their network, based on whatever criteria they deem appropriate. Let me Google that for you:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_neutrality

    Given the vast array of broadband choices most of us have (2 if we’re lucky, 1 half-assed one if you’re me), I’d rather have this regulated just so Time Warner or ATT doesn’t hold me down and fuck me if I don’t happen to be accessing their ‘approved’ content.

  35. 35
    lawguy says:

    I think that the DC Circut is one one the most reactionary in the country. They are the ones who gave us Ken Starr after all.

  36. 36
    joel hanes says:

    Steve Finley skrev :

    “Net neutrality” has always meant one thing, and one thing only: Bandwidth pigs get a free ride, and low volume users pay for it.

    Completely incorrect.

    randiego quoth :

    I have no sympathy for any kind of tiered content selection/pricing scheme

    Has nothing at all to do with net neutrality. Nothing.
    But it’s what the enemies of Net neutrality _want_ you to think it’s about.

    Net neutrality is about treating all endpoints and protocols the same. Kevin Drum had a thread about this just this morning; amazingly, two of the first few commentators got it exactly right (although Kevin does not).

    A couple examples.
    In a Net without neutrality:

    AT&T’s DSL internet customers will find that Skype and Vonage just don’t work well for them (and so pose no threat to AT&T’s telephone business model).

    Microsoft will be free to enter into contracts with Comcast that privilege certain packets, protocols, and endpoints, to the mutual advantage of both companies. On the server side, packets originating from Microsoft’s Exchange Server and web server products will be privileged over those originating from Linux-based systems. Email that your friends send from a disfavored system may arrive after several days delay, while the corporate emails from your bank come within seconds. Web pages built with Microsoft’s ASP will load immediately, while those built on Apache will lag and lag until they time out. On the customer end : for Comcast customers, only Microsoft’s Internet Explorer will offer a satisfactory browsing experience — contractually-arranged performance degradation will plague users of Firefox, Opera, and Chrome.

    Comcast is pretending that this is about those nasty BitTorrent bandwidth hogs, but their real concern is to extinguish the free exchange of video content that competes with their cable TV business model.

    Discrimination by bandwidth demand – acceptable.
    Discrimination by packet type or origin – completely unacceptable.
    That’s Net neutrality.
    Accept no substitutes.

  37. 37
    qkslvrwolf says:

    As I understand it, the way the ruling looks right now, your ISP can make a deal with microsoft and redirect you to bing whenever you try and go to google.

    We’re so fucked.

  38. 38
    qkslvrwolf says:

    joel hanes says it better, but my final comment still stands: we’re fucked.

  39. 39
    JoeK says:

    @joel hanes:

    Discrimination by bandwidth demand – acceptable.
    Discrimination by packet type or origin – completely unacceptable.

    Yes, exactly.

    Of course, the ISPs seem to over-book their bandwidth — not everyone with 6Mbps service on my cable segment can use all their paid-for bandwidth simultaneously. This is what forces the ISP to have to manage high-bandwidth applications differently. It seems wrong from a getting-what-you-pay-for standpoint — if I’m paying for a 6Mbps connection, I ought to be able to use all of it, continuously 24/7 if I want. I suspect this is completely unrealistic, though, given existing network infrastructure. Which seems to imply that metered service is the right answer — pay for only the bandwidth you actually use, and enforce absolute impartiality on the ISP’s part re how that bandwidth is used. That would be fine with me, provided my monthly bill ended up about the same.

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