Network Neutrality Legislation to Remain in Limbo

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-07-26 Print this article Print


The progress of this debate has taken what was already a tangled mess of conflicting interests and added a new element, the issue of preventing the transfer of protected content. The problem with this new element is that it's not really part of net neutrality at all. While the content owners have a legitimate concern, what they're asking for is that the traffic management that ISPs are allowed to perform by the court decision be expanded to include monitoring the nature of the traffic to determine whether it contains illegally obtained copyrighted material. 

In other words, if I were to send an MP3 file of music to my daughter in a transfer that violates a copyright, the ISP should be required to block it. But if I were to send a copy of me singing a song to my daughter, they could let that pass. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I can't figure out how this is part of net neutrality. But even supposing it is, how can an ISP legally inspect the contents of an e-mail without violating wiretapping laws? And how, once they determine that I'm sending out music, can they determine whether it's violating a copyright? 

While I sympathize with the need to protect intellectual property, I have trouble seeing how this is a solution. Instead, this seems to be an attempt to hang a hook on net neutrality and use it as a vehicle to get their view of content protection through.  

It's perhaps significant to note that AT&T is a major player in this organization. AT&T is also the company that has already stated its opposition to net neutrality. The fact that the court decision that's leading to this new activity benefited Comcast, which is trying to merge with NBC Universal, which is a member of this group, may also be significant. The primary membership of the Arts+Labs group does not seem to have an interest in an open Internet so much as it seems to have an interest in making sure it protects its own commercial interests. 

The one bright note is that there's little chance that the FCC will be able to assert control over net neutrality or the Internet in general in the immediate future. It's already been slapped down by the court, and an attempt to defy the court will certainly result in being slapped even harder. Attempts to reclassify the Internet will also certainly result in years or even decades in court. The only hope the Commission has is that Congress will pass legislation giving it the authority to regulate network neutrality, which is something the court said was missing in the first place. 

But such legislation won't happen any time soon. It's impossible this year with Congress about to go into election year recess. Next year, it's anybody's guess, but you can assume that the makeup of Congress will change, and legislation of any type will be highly uncertain. So in the meantime, what we have are distractions, and that doesn't help anyone.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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