While the Federal Communications Commission seems determined to find some way to regulate network neutrality, a coalition of technology and creative concerns called Arts+Labs is confusing the debate by demanding that Internet service providers get in the business of screening Internet traffic for illegal transmissions of copyrighted material.
One of the nice things about
the net neutrality debate is that just when you think you've figured out
all of the positions, everything changes. In this case, a ruling by the U.S.
Court of Appeals that the Federal
Communications Commission did not have the authority to regulate net neutrality
has thrown the usual players into something of a tizzy.
Since that time, the FCC has
announced that if it can't regulate broadband carriers the way it originally
wanted to, then it will reclassify
them into an area where it can regulate them
This plan by the FCC to
change the status of Internet carriers to that of phone companies, and to use
rules adopted to control those companies decades ago, is certain to result in
two things: first, confusion, since the Title 2 rules that the FCC wants to use
don't readily apply to the Internet, and second to make a lot of lawyers a lot
richer than they already are. If there is one thing that's certain in this
current effort by the FCC to find a way to assert control over the internet, it's
that there will be a lot of legal action.
Another thing that's certain
is that a lot of pressure and activist groups are going to try to find a way to
use this turn of events to pressure Congress into enacting some kind of legislation
controlling the FCC and the Internet. While the chances of legislation actually
happening in this area are remote, that hasn't stopped the various public
interest groups from pushing their cases as if the event were just around the
In mid-July, for example, I
received a press release from a group called Arts+Labs, which is a coalition of
technology and creative organizations. The members include NBC Universal,
Microsoft and a group of songwriters, among others. Its take on net neutrality
is that ISPs should use their ability to manage network traffic to protect the
interests of content providers from piracy.
The group is afraid that the
principle of nondiscrimination is such that ISPs wouldn't be allowed to block
traffic containing illegal transfers of protected work. Instead, Arts+Labs wants
ISPs to be able to prevent the illegal transfer of protected work. Basically,
the group wants to make sure that whatever rules are adopted allow this.
Meanwhile, other groups
including Free Press and Public Knowledge want to have the Internet completely
free of any favoritism toward any service provider. They say that it should be
up to the consumer whether to pay for enhanced access or not. They're against
any deals that give better access to one company over another, and against any
preference by an ISP for their own customers to their own content.