FCC enforces internet anarchy

Putting metaphors to work

To support the decision, it quotes the expert advice of MIT's David Reed, who says that deep packet inspection is not acceptable practice.

But then Martin declares, "we do not tell providers how to manage their networks," although the whole point of the exercise is to do just that.

So if a network operator decides to favour one kind of application over another, is that OK? Yes, Martin, says. "They might choose, for instance, to prioritize voice-over-IP calls," he writes in the very next sentence.

But when a VoIP call takes a higher priority, the priority of all other traffic is implicitly downgraded - which is exactly what Comcast has been smacked for. An ISP which stops an internet worm in its tracks is also discriminating, as is one which identifies material by content such as mass spam mailouts, and attempts to block them.

We're right back to Friendly Roads, again.

The FCC's judgement came in for immediate criticism.

The Commission concluded that "the end result of Comcast’s conduct was the blocking of Internet traffic, which had the effect of substantially impeding consumers’ ability to access the content and to use the applications of their choice. The Commission noted that the record contained substantial evidence that customers, among other things, were unable to share music, watch video, or download software due to Comcast’s misconduct."

The commission gave 30 days for Comcast to stop the practice. Comcast actually stopped using the RST technique several months ago, and has since vowed to not discriminate by application.

The judgement is strongly contradicted by the evidence. Comcast's traffic management was selectively applied to 24x7 Torrent uploaders ("seeders"), and enhanced the ability of Comcast customers to download torrents.

The commission said the technique did not constitute "reasonable network practice" and that economic harm resulted. Again, both of these are contentious - and copyright holders in particular will need a stiff drink as they digest the latter. While Bittorrent has substantial non-infringing uses, most of the traffic is unlicensed downloads of TVs, movies and music, a point not lost on one of the commissioners, Deborah Tate, who pointed out the neutrality principles only protect "lawful content". It's not a Freetard's Charter.

Probably the only area that isn't contentious is the judgement that Comcast made deceptive statements to the press about its practices, and failed to inform its customers. Indeed, the failure to alert its PR staff on the deeper issues, and explain the specific practices (rather than deny them outright) may prove to be one of the costliest decisions in telecomms history. And it's not as if Net Neutrality appeared out of the blue. For three years, activists have been combing the net for "violations" - imaginary, in some cases. (See Man discovers his net wasn't neutered as an example).

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