R.I.P Net Neutrality?

A Federal appeals court says the FCC has no business regulating Comcast's internet traffic--yet.

I am currently visiting Washington DC on a family vacation this week, and tomorrow when I step out of the Metro station tomorrow at L'Enfant Plaza, I am wondering if I should lay a black wreath on the steps of the FCC Building.

Well, given the lack of humor found amongst certain government-types around here, this may not be such a good plan. And, truth to tell, it may not even be necessary. 

A Federal appeals court here struck down the FCC's 2008 cease-and-desist order against Comcast, when the cable/Internet provider decided to start regulating the flow of traffic across its network and put the kibosh on things like BitTorrent. The FCC's position is that as a provider of communications, Comcast had no right to regulate one kind of traffic over another: what has become known as Net Neutrality.

However, today's ruling called foul on the FCC, because it turns out there's no actual law saying that the FCC even has authority over the Internet.

Er, whoops.

Does this mean that Comcast will be ruling its network with impunity? Well, for the short term, perhaps. But the FCC is already working on getting some kind of bill passed soon, so once a law is created, their authority will be correctly established.

Open and free software users are typically for Net Neutrality, if only due to the fact that BitTorrent is a primary transmission mechanism for sharing software.

There is, however, resistance. Vocal right-wing groups are decrying this type of bill as the government trying to take over the Internet--conveniently ignoring the fact that the government created the Internet and operated it in the US until it released it to private control in the early 1990s. While I do not agree with the more strident objections, I do have some reservations about how such a bill would be created.

It is important that a Net Neutrality bill give the FCC the ability to keep the Internet free for all, as its supporters claim. What I would not want to see is the FCC getting any notions about regulating content, as they do on the airwaves. This is a valid concern, because the FCC has a habit of trying to regulate content for the "public good" without a lot of public input.

Do I think they are trying to control the Internet so they can teach our children to vote for socialist candidates? Poppycock. Am I worried they will start trying to exert well-meaning but unwarranted content control over and above existing laws and enforcement? A little bit.

It's a slippery slope. There are lot of offensive (and legal) things on the Internet. I wouldn't shed a tear if I never saw many of them again. But I do not want an outside agency deciding what is "offensive" for me.

So instead of laying a wreath, maybe I'll drop in and share this idea with the FCC tomorrow.

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