Save the Internet?

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A coalition of activists have started a site called Save The Internet, to lobby for net neutrality:
Writing net neutrality into law would preserve the freedoms we currently enjoy on the Internet. For all their talk about deregulation, the cable and telephone giants dont want real competition. They want special rules written in their favor.

Either we make rules that ensure an even playing field for everyone, or we have rules that hold the Internet captive to the whims of the a few big companies. The Internet has thrived because revolutionary ideas like blogs, Wikipedia or Google could start on a shoestring and attract huge audiences. Without net neutrality, the pipeline owners will choose the winners and losers on the Web.

And when the network owners start abusing their control of the pipes, theres nowhere else for consumers to turn. The cable and telephone companies already dominate 98 percent of the broadband market. Only 53 percent of Americans have a choice between cable and DSL at home. Everyone else has only one choice or no broadband options at all. Thats not what a truly free market looks like.

I absolutely agree that the threat is real, and they're quite right to identify the problem as a lack of choice, but as I noted earlier, it's not clear that legislation is the right approach. In particular, the Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006, which this group appears to be endorsing, appears to prohibit some standard ISP practices. For instance:

(a) IN GENERAL, A network operator shall--
(1) not interfere with, block, degrade, alter, modify, impair, or change any bits, content, application or service transmitted over the network of such operator;

...

(5) allow the attachment of any device which, if such device is in compliance with part 68 of title 47, Code of Federal Regulations, without restricting any application or service that may be offered or provided using such a device;

To give you one example, many ISPs (especially the cable-based ones) forbid users from operating servers--Web servers, for instance--which would seem to me to be a clear violation, especially if it blocked them. It would also seem to prohibit ISPs from offering variable quality of service offerings (for instance in order to get better performance for VoIP) such as diffserv, even if they and the customers want them to. Of course, it's arguable that both of these practices are objectionable, but that doesn't mean that they should be illegal. I'm not saying that it's not possible to write a law that doesn't overreach this way--though it's harder than it sounds--but I'd like to see an existence proof before getting on board this particular bandwagon.

4 Comments

(a)(1) looks like it covers NAT or any kind of transparent proxying, or packet rewriting of any kind. It would forbid anti-virus and anti-spam scanning anywhere but at the very edge of the network.

The basic problem with most net neutrality proposals that I've seen so far is that one person's enhancement is another person's degradation.

Would this outlaw an ISP from shutting down someone who was spamming? DDOSing?

Spin off the pipes.

There's an exemption for security, so I think probably not, but I haven't studied it.

It is highly unlikely that the Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006, as currently written and supported, will pass.

In terms of legislative effectiveness at passing bills, one of the simple rules of thumb is committee membership (especially ranking) is a likely indicator of success. Another is co-sponsors in both house and senate. This bill lacks all of the indicators of serious support.

But, given that Wydon is from a high tech community in Oregon and this is an election year, he needs to raise money. And my guess is that net neutrality is popular in Hillsboro.

As a further note, my sense is that the Bush administration and the Republican caucus will not support any bill that might endanger their ability to "protect children from pornography".

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