With all the accompanying posturing and ideological positioning one might expect from a 3-2 decision — enjoy! FCC orders Comcast to modify network management – Yahoo News (pdf)
Comcast Corp has been ordered to change how it manages its broadband network after U.S. communications regulators concluded some of its tactics unreasonably restrict Internet users who share movies and other material.
- Press release:
While Comcast claimed its intent was to manage congestion, they [sic] evidence told a different story:
- Contrary to Comcast’s claims, they blocked customers who were using very little bandwidth simply because they were using a disfavored application;
- Contrary to Comcast’s claims, they did not affect customers using an extraordinary amount of bandwidth even during periods of peak network congestion as long as he wasn’t using a disfavored application;
- Contrary to Comcast’s claims, they delayed and blocked customers using a disfavored application even when there was no network congestion;
- Contrary to Comcast’s claims, the activity extended to regions much larger than where it claimed congestion occurred.
In short, they were not simply managing their network; they had arbitrarily picked an application and blocked their subscribers’ access to it.
Let’s be clear about what today’s Order does and does not accomplish. We do recognize that unreasonably impeding the performance of an Internet application (like peer-to-peer file sharing)—and not just outright blocking a particular website or program—violates the FCC’s Internet policies. We do require that Internet providers inform their customers when they make important technical decisions that change how the Internet works. And we do give consumers who feel their Internet experience is being unreasonably interfered with a right to seek help at the Commission. We do not, however, prohibit carriers from reasonably managing their networks. And we do not prevent engineers—either now or in the future—from coming up with new and better ways to serve their customers.
Going forward, this decision sets out a marker, making clear to providers that discriminatory network management practices must be carefully tailored and not unreasonable. As providers craft their network management practices, the Order sends a strong signal about the importance of engaging industry standard setting bodies, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Architecture Board, and the Internet Society, which offer the best forum for resolving network management issues. It is certainly preferable for facilities-based providers and applications providers to work collaboratively, in an open and transparent manner, without the need for governmental intervention. To the extent that engineers can work out these issues among themselves, it obviates the need for Commission action. I am pleased such an effort is now underway among these engineering bodies to tackle the issues raised by peer-to-peer traffic, and that Comcast is an active participant in those discussions. The Order makes clear, though, that the Commission will not abdicate its role in preserving and promoting the open and interconnected nature of the Internet. That open platform has been the basis for unprecedented innovation and I am confident that the approach we take today will, in the end, lead to the greatest opportunities for continued innovation.
As my colleagues on the Commission know, a long-time concern of mine has been fighting the proliferation of online child pornography and unauthorized illegal downloads of creative content. In fact, next week I will be traveling to Tennessee to attend the launch of a partnership between Connected Nation and iKeepSafe. Connected Nation provides computers to children across the state of Tennessee and iKeepSafe provides DVDs and other educational materials to teach children about the risks associated with internet use and how they can protect themselves online – yet another example of a positive market and industry driven public-private partnership to address a very real problem: child online safety.
While I may be the only Commissioner raising these concerns, certainly many Attorneys General, the National Coalition for Missing and Exploited Children and even leaders in other countries share these concerns. If the Commission interferes with the ISPs ability to manage their networks by imposing a strict legal standard, will such regulation have a freezing effect on the fight against illegal content? By requiring ISPs to “carefully tailor” their network management practices, I am concerned that we will potentially be stripping them of the important tools they use—and we need– to purge their platforms of illegal content which negatively impacts every type of intellectual property, from software to pharmaceuticals to of course, songwriters and motion pictures.
For the first time, today our government is choosing regulation over collaboration when it comes to Internet governance. The majority has thrust politicians and bureaucrats into engineering decisions. It will be interesting to see how the FCC will handle its newly created power because, as an institution, we are incapable of deciding any issue in the nanoseconds of Internet time. Furthermore, asking our government to make these decisions will mean that every two to four years the ground rules could change depending on election results. Internet engineers will find it difficult, if not impossible, to operate in a climate like that. Today’s action is raising many questions across the globe. Is the next step for the FCC to mandate that network owners must ask the government for permission before serving their customers by managing surges of information flow? As a result of today’s actions, Internet lawyers around the country are likely advising their clients to do just that. Will the FCC be able to handle that case load? Will other countries like China follow suit and be able to regulate American companies’ network management practices, with effects that could be felt here? How do we know where to draw the line given that the Internet is an interconnected global network of networks? Given the Internet’s interconnectivity, are we now starting a global race to the lowest common denominator of maximum government regulation all in the name, ironically, of Internet freedom? Keep in mind that societies that regulate the Internet less tend to be more democratic, while regimes that regulate it more tend to be less democratic.
I am being asked these and many other questions, and I don’t have answers to them. No one does. But two things are for sure, this debate will continue, and the FCC has generated more questions than it has answered.
[…] So today, for the first time in Internet history, we say “goodbye” to the era of collaboration that served the Internet community and consumers so well for so long; and we say “hello” to unneeded regulation and all of its unintended consequences. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.