The Friday Blog
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the FCC lacked the authority to tell Comcast (and by extension all other internet providers) not to pick and choose what types of web applications they would allow on their networks. To some, this seems natural and normal on the face of it, but the implications for the destruction of competition ring far and wide.
The problem is that large services like Comcast and AT&T have more than one dog in this fight, and they are all too happy to kill your dogs in order to see theirs win. For instance, Comcast sees streaming video as a direct threat to their cable business, as it competes head to head for the customer’s attention. Yet Comcast now has no incentive to continue to allow you to watch it. Turn on a streaming video, and you could in the near future see your bandwidth drop to zero. And there is no reason that this need be limited to the heaviest users, like was announced a few months ago. They may now throttle your ability to use the internet for any reason at all, and we would be foolish to think they wouldn’t do so to increase their own bottom line. The same is true for AT&T and VOIP telephone apps. In fact, now that AT&T and Comcast are sharing nearly identical high-end services for cable/telephone/internet, all concerns for one apply equally to the other.
The FCC is not out of the fight yet however. The agency suffered tremendously under Bush, and while it has yet to recover, Obama has stated numerous times that net neutrality is an important issue to him, and simply returning the FCC’s authority and even expanding it to match technological advances could likely solve most of the worst offenses.
While things won’t get better on their own, and there is no doubt that this is bad news, there is reason to be hopeful. The ruling is a slap in the face of the American Public in favor of Corporate America, and I expect that it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Look for more attention to start being paid to this soon. And the first time some senator fires up his Apple TV and gets a one finger salute from Comcast, expect to see a different sort of revisiting of the subject.