Much as we’ve all integrated the Internet into our lives, it turns out the FCC hasn’t really been able to stay ahead of the public’s appetite with involvement to the degree that you’d hope. In 2008, an FCC ruling that found that media and Internet giant Comcast failed to tell subscribers that it was blocking their access to a bandwidth-intensive file sharing technology, lied about it when confronted by the FCC, and had intentions of crippling an online video-site that competed with Comcast’s on-demand service. Last week, an appeals court overturned that ruling.
The impact on consumers? Well, any day now, this column may be writing a sad little letter to a young lady in love with her Internet access that begins, “No Virginia, it turns out there is no Santa Claus.”
In a nutshell, Comcast was after what big telecoms want: No public regulation of Internet access that in any way compares to the laws that the FCC uses to protect the public regarding radio, TV, and telephones. In an article in the LA Times about the overturned FCC ruling, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House subcommittee that deals with telecommunications, promised to get telecoms, Web companies and others to agree on legislation that would grant the FCC direct legal authority over Internet services. What we might call guarding the public interest, and what FOX News would call “socialism.”
In the earliest days of the Internet–just hours after Al Gore invented it, the primary concern of Democrats and others who care about consumers in ways other than shaking nickels out of their pockets was that because of economics many would be left off the “Information Superhighway.” Now, while “Information Superhighway” sounds like an old ABBA album, we’re seeing that fear come to roost. Republicans are notoriously in bed with telecoms, feeding their voracious appetites. Efforts to protect Internet access and fairness were stymied by actions taken during the Bush administration. Some say that one problem was that science buff and mental giant Bush thought that “Internet” was a spray hair care product.
According to the LA Times article, Comcast, before the 2008 ruling attempted to throttle content coursing through their systems (specifically BitTorrent, a technology that allows faster downloads) possibly in hopes of getting to the point where they might charge websites to load their pages faster or slow down other competing sites. Nice, huh? And you thought pirates only sailed the high seas.
In fairness, it’s arguable that anyone has actually stayed ahead of the curve when it comes to the lightning-fast growth of the Internet. Consider that hundreds of thousands of deep-space technonauts who bought iPads two weeks ago, even though no one is quite sure how they will integrate into consumer’s lives or information needs. They’re just neat! $800 dollars neat.
But we’re well into the “Information Age” and the notion that the FCC will have less to say about the public’s interests regarding the Internet than it does about Janet Jackson’s breasts just feels wrong. In the 2008 ruling, the FCC found that Comcast had, in fact, discriminated against BitTorrent. With two years to sharpen their knives, Comcast’s lawyers were able to flip that view last week. The glove did fit, the blood spatter was there, we saw Comcast driving down the Internet in the white Ford Bronco… but they got their reversal anyway.
According to the LA Times, the appeals court found that the FCC overstepped its bounds because it lacked direct authority from Congress to regulate Internet network neutrality. But that’s just the kind of power that Democrats and others feel the FCC must have, or its game over and big telecoms will be running the show.
People such as Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger have been more than candid about “monetizing” the Internet. They want us to all wake-up for Internet breakfast in America one day and find that, as far as our computers go, we’re eating it. What matters right now is whether government and the FCC will have much of anything to say about it. Last week’s overturned ruling doesn’t bode well, but then I’m somebody that sees darkness in such things as a Grammy Awards show that only represents the musicians affiliated with corporate entertainment entities.
Something else came across my desk last week. It was an offer from Credo, the feisty communications company that started out as, Working Assets. Working Assets was born on the notion that a company providing something like long distance telephone service could also function as an advocacy network, with efforts such as letting customers round up their bill payments so that the excess could go to progressive organizations. Or what FOX News would call “socialism.” The brochure to get on board Credo’s cell phone service included a reminder that AT&T donated the legal maximum to the Bush-Cheney and McCain campaigns… just in case we’re still fuzzy on that telecom-Republican hook-up. I’m seriously considering their offer. Now, while I still have the chance to make that choice.
Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com