Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on April 16, 2008
Whether it’s because they have gotten a lot of bad PR, because they are scare of legislation or regulation, or because they have had a genuine change of heart, big Internet service providers seem to be looking for a way out of the increasingly heated arguments over network neutrality. Unfortunately, a lot of neutrality advocates seem to be unwilling to take yes for an answer and won’t even concede the possibility that the ISPs might conceivably be acting in good faith.
The latest flurry of rhetoric was set off by Comcast’s announcement that it was working with peer-to-peer technology providers on a “P2P Bill of Rights and Responsibilities/”
Public Knowledge President Gigi B. Sohn immediately responded with an uncharacteristically intemperate and off-target attack:
"The fact that Comcast is trying to come up with a Bill of Rights for customers is ludicrous. This is the company that not only lied for a year about the workings of its Internet service, but also created such ill will among its cable subscribers that one elderly woman busted up a customer service office with a hammer because she and her husband were kept waiting for hours in the heat."
Martin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press, also reacted with more heat than light:
"Comcast and a company called Pando have declared themselves the arbiters of consumers' rights and responsibilities. Their announcement gives little information about the arrangement, but Comcast's behavior tells us everything we need to know.
"For the past year, Comcast has been blocking peer-to-peer applications -- a practice that they continue to this day with no indication of when or if they plan to stop. During that time, Comcast has lied consistently about the blocking to its own customers, the public, the press and the FCC."
In fact, Comcast has been accused of, and has sort of admitted, degrading peer-to-peer uploads using the BitTorrent protocol. But there seems to be no evidence for Ammori's claim that the company is "blocking peer-to-peer applications."
The public advocacy groups are piqued that they haven't been invited to Comcast's talks. Frankly, given the belligerency they are showing, I wouldn't invite them either if I hoped to accomplish anything more than yet another net neutrality shouting match.
I carry no particular brief for ISPs in general or Comcast in particular, and my experience with their customer service has at times made me want to emulated the little old lady with a hammer. Still, there is the chance that they are acting a reasonably good faith. Net neutrality advocates at least ought to hear them out before attacking.