Cable giant Comcast has become the poster child for Net Neutrality with blatant actions to block user traffic that make the case for Internet protections.
On Thursday, a coalition of Net Neutrality supporters and legal scholars took this case to the Federal Communications Commission. We filed an official action urging the agency to stop the cable giant from meddling with your ability to connect and share information.
The company recently gave us a glimpse of a world without Net Neutrality.
In the "most drastic example yet of data discrimination," the Associated Press exposed that Comcast was actively interfering with its users' ability to access popular and legal video, photo and music sharing applications.
Despite mounting evidence that Comcast is crippling peer-to-peer communication, the company's spokespeople have thumbed their noses at the public and the press -- refusing to admit that the blocking of connections is underhanded or in any way threatens the free flow of information that's become the hallmark of an open Internet.
The High Price of Violating a Neutral Net
Comcast's defense is flimsy. The company's blatant and deceptive blocking is exactly the type of problem Net Neutrality supporters warned would occur without proper open Internet protections. It's now time for the FCC to do something about it.
In the complaint, Free Press and Public Knowledge are asking the FCC to fine Comcast $195,000 for every affected subscriber. Comcast is the nation's largest cable company and second-largest Internet service provider, with 12.9 million subscribers. If the FCC honors the complaint, the size of the fine for violating Net Neutrality could be astronomical.
The action puts the FCC on notice. The agency has policies that partially defend against discrimination but these have yet to be tested against a real violation such as what Comcast is doing.
It's About Video
The not-so-hidden secret behind all of this is video. Network owners are waging a quiet campaign to control how video gets distributed via the Web. In their view, the Internet should only be used for e-mail and surfing. Internet video should be distributed via ISPs. It's a model that treats the Internet like cable TV -- where companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon get to pick the channels you get to see.
The popular trend in video, however, is streaming in the opposite direction. More and more people are becoming their own creators and distributors of homespun video content. For proof that people like to watch videos created by others, go no further than YouTube, which boasts more than 100 million "views" each day.
YouTube is just the beginning of this revolution. It's heart and soul, though, beats elsewhere -- with the use of peer-to-peer applications. Peer-to-peer traffic is spreading via popular technologies like Bit Torrent and Gnutella, which allow users to upload and share videos, music and other rich media without a middleman. It's follows a non-discriminatory Web model that encourages innovation without permission.
The phone and cable companies are desperate to shut this down. In the case of Comcast, they're doing it by spying on traffic and stifling the free exchange of ideas that will continue to make the Internet so remarkable.
Comcast: A Problem Found
Phone and cable lobbyists have called Net Neutrality "a solution in search of a problem." Well, here's the problem. In the past three months, incidents of censorship and blocking by Verizon, AT&T and now Comcast have made headlines around the world. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The Commission now faces a clear choice. It can either side with the interests of consumers and for an Internet unfettered by corporate gatekeepers, or it can let companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T erect "walled gardens" and destroy the most democratic communications tool in history.
You can help convince the agency to do the right thing.