Net Neutrality Debate Veers Off on Copyright Tangent

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 corner.

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.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...