Tales of the Sausage Factory

Put Up Or Shut Up At the FCC on Net Neutrality “Principles”

When the FCC deregulated broadband by declaring it an “information service,” it also adopted four principles that purported to give broadband subscribers a right to “access lawful content of their choice,” “run applications and services of their choice,” “connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network,” and enjoy “competition among network providers, application and service providers.” All subject to “reasonable network management,” of course. So when a bunch of us in 2006 pressed Congress to pass a network neutrality law, a lot of folks claimed we didn’t need one because the FCC already had the authority to deal with any problems that might arise. And, when questioned on this very subject at his confirmation hearing for a second term, FCC Chairman Martin said the FCC had ample authority to deal with any violations of the four principles that might arise.

Thanks to Comcast and their decision to “manage” their network load by degrading BitTorrent,it’s put up or shut up time at the FCC. My employer, Media Access Project, along with Free Press and Public Knowledge, just filed a formal complaint against Comcast and a general Petition for Declaratory Ruling asking that the FCC hold that deliberately messing with a customer’s application while refusing to admit doing it when asked pint blank violates the FCC’s “four principles” and does not constitute a “reasonable network management practice.” This will also press the FCC to find out exactly what the heck Comcast is actually doing (since some folk remain uncertain). Given that Comcast initially denied the very idea as “internet gossip,”, instructed their line staff to lie to customers about it, and are still maintaining that nothing of interest is going on, it looks like the only way will actually find out what the heck is going on and why is to have the FCC pry it out of them.

Hey, maybe they are telling the truth. But the FCC is in a much better position to know whether Comcast is deliberately lying to its customers and, if so, why. Because while my friend and opposite number Jim Harper at Technology Liberation Front may be content to see if the market punishes Comcast for its “lack of transparency”, I see a lot of bad consequences in letting Comcast throttle traffic as a network management tool and then lie (or, at best, mislead) about it when asked about it point-blank by their customers.

At any rate, whether folks think we should regulate this kind of behavior or not (and I recognize that a number of smart folks not employed by cable operators feel we shouldn’t regulate this even if everything bad said about Comcast is true), we deserve to know whether the FCC has the authority to regulate this behavior, and the willingness to do so on an enforcement basis. Because if the cable and telco companies that swore up and down that we didn’t need new rules now come in and say the FCC has no authority to take complaints about their behavior after the fact or no authority to order any remedies, then we should know that. And if the FCC is going to leave us high and dry when broadband providers start degrading applications, then we should know that. Because while some folks may think that lying to your customers is an acceptable network management technique, or even an acceptable technique for managing elected members of Congress, I think most Americans would disagree. And I certainly want to know that by November ’08.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Great Paper on NN Out of University of Florida

I’m back from a vacation in Israel to discover an amazing economic analysis of network neutrality posted by my good buddies at Consumers Union on hearusnow.org. Written by University of Florida Economists Hsing Cheng, Subhajoyti Bhandyopadhya and Hong Guo, Net Neutrality: A Policy Perspective applies game theory to the network neutrality debate. They conclude that abandoning network neutrality would create a disincentive for broadband network providers to build fatter pipes.

If this analysis seems familiar, it’s because I wrote something similar (but without the fancy math) about a year ago. As always, I get warm fuzzies whenever economists confirm my Econ 101 “gut check.”

Of course, these guys being real economists (as opposed to undergrad posseurs like yours truly) have a bit more to say on the subject and use lots of fancy math that I will not try to reproduce. But I offer some brief plain language explanation (including what I think are the brilliant points in the analysis) below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Snowe & Dorgan ReIntroduce Net Neutrality Bill — and A Chance for Some Presidential Politics

Senator Snowe (R-ME) and Senator Dorgan (D-ND) have introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act. Interestingly, although neither is on the relevant Committee, both Barak Obama and Hilary Clinton are co-sponsors. While not exactly pandering (both co-sponsored the Snowe-Dorgan network neutrality bill last year when it was a lot riskier to do so), does anyone doubt that their decision to come out strongly in favor of NN this early was influenced by the popularity of this issue with the netroots?

Meanwhile, where the heck did Inouye go? And has anyone talked to the new members yet?

Some reflections on the new bill, and on the new politics network neutrality, below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Good FCC Order on Unlicensed Released

The FCC has now released the Order it published last week on allowing higher power outputs for “smart antennas.” A copy of the Order in word is available here, and pdf here. My extremely limited analysis below. Headline version: the FCC sidestepped some bad ideas and the order will generally improve the ability of equipment manufacturers and network providers to use unlicensed spectrum more efficiently and at slightly higher powers in existing bands. So call it a good day at the FCC.

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