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Net Neutrality Heats Up in the U.S. and Canada
Some ISPs are very much against regulation. So are some politicians. It appears that the ISPs say there is no problem. My thought is that regulation seems to come after the abuse is obvious. Should we wait for the abuse? Is it here now? Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) noted," To whatever degree people were alleging that this was a solution [regulation] in search of a problem, it has found its problem". As you work at home or on the road, how frustrating will it be when your large up- or download is either significantly delayed or blocked? What about the emerging voice, video and Web conferences, will they work acceptably?
Some ISPs are very much against regulation. So are some politicians. It appears that the ISPs say there is no problem. My thought is that regulation seems to come after the abuse is obvious. Should we wait for the abuse? Is it here now? Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) noted," To whatever degree people were alleging that this was a solution [regulation] in search of a problem, it has found its problem". As you work at home or on the road, how frustrating will it be when your large up- or download is either significantly delayed or blocked? What about the emerging voice, video and Web conferences, will they work acceptably?Net Neutrality is becoming a bigger issue in the U.S. and Canada. Democrats are reviving the Internet Freedom Preservation Act first announced in early 2007. It is a bi-partisan bill that failed passage last year.
The U.S. Senate is pushing for Net Neutrality legislation because some believe that the FCC does not have enough power to enforce rules and punish network operators that do not follow the regulations. FCC chairman Kevin Martin says the FCC has the authority to do its job and no new legislation is needed. This may be the government's position, but I am sure the FCC will be changing after the there is a new president in 2009. One of Martin's observations is that Comcast delayed transmissions using traffic shaping even when there was no network congestion. This is clearly Comcast abuse.
In Canada, Bell Canada created uproar with their traffic shaping and bandwidth throttling. Independent Canadian ISPs are complaining that Bell is causing their customers to face slower download speeds because of the Bell traffic shaping policies. It appears that the traffic shaping occurs from 4 PM to 2 AM on a daily basis.
The Canadian Association of Internet providers (CAIP) filed an official complaint against the traffic shaping policies with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. Tom Copeland, the CAIP chairman, commented that switching from the independents to Bell would not remove the traffic control problem for customers.
Richard Morochove, an IT consultant from Toronto, believes that the average user has little input with the ISPs for the services they receive. Morochove noted, "It really comes down to consumers and a lack of real choice of broadband Internet service.'' The traffic shaping policy, which definitely affects VoIP and VPNs, seems to be limited to Ontario and Quebec. If Bell is successful with this traffic control policy, then will the rest of Canada follow suit?
Back in the U.S., FCC chairman Martin is dealing with the Comcast interpretation of the FCC authority, that the FCC would face litigation if the FCC moves against Comcast. Martin is not being deterred by Comcast's threat. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the FCC has the ability to make critical decisions when interpreting the Telecom Act, and such decisions should be left to the FCC, not the courts. In my opinion, Comcast is no different then any other dominant corporation that wants to control its customers and behave in a monopolistic manner. The Comcast policy was characterized as a blunt approach to blocking peer-to-peer traffic.
The FCC has held two hearings on the subject, the first in February 2008 at Harvard. Comcast and other major ISPs attended. Comcast was the inspiration for this hearing and was given a poor reception by the other attendees. Comcast was accused of padding the meeting room with their own people that limited the attendance by other organizations and customers.
The second hearing, at Stanford, was missing all of the major ISPs. The heated discussion focused on the observed and anticipated abuses of the ISPs. An interesting comment by Larry Lessig, a Stanford law professor, is the "venture capitalists are investing the future. If they believe the platform will be controlled tomorrow, there will be less investment today". The tight control of the ISP market means that innovation may be stalled because of less money being pumped into new Internet services and applications.
Martin of the FCC stated, "Particularly as broadband providers are trying to provide tiers of service, it's critical to make sure that we are understanding that the broadband network operators are able to deliver the speeds and service that they are selling". Remember that many ISPs advertise that they offer unlimited usage. The recent history shows this not be true in the U.S. and Canada.
The traffic control issues at first appear to be a consumer frustration. The issue and problems will grow to affect the enterprise as well. When competition does not provide for a balanced approach, between customer and provider, then regulation is necessary. We have already been through this with the telepnone companies. Is the Internet a private offering or is it like the telephone service, open and to be regulated?