Net Neutrality--Time for a Little Civility

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.

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Reader Comments

Richard

April 17, 2008 07:58 AM

What used to be a good ISP provider has no better than DialUp when sending photos.
I no longer consider them a good service provider.and feel I am not getting what I am paying for. I may have to switch to Hughes net.

Scott Cleland

April 17, 2008 08:09 AM

Thank you Mr. Wildstrom for bringing some constructive perspective to this debate.
This is Scott Cleland Chairman of NetCompetition.org, which represents broadband companies on net neutrality.
I too was surprised that these groups did not have the maturity or perspective to applaud the progress and say what else they expected.
By totally dismissing good-faith progress towards their stated goals, they show their true colors --that they do not actually seek constructive progress -- but that they want to score political points and advance their broader information commons political agenda to turn the Internet and all its content into a public commons, not the free market Internet it is today.
I particularly respect and appreciate your balance and perspective here because I know that in the past we have tangled when you supported net neutrality goals in the past.

Nathan Searcy

April 20, 2008 08:04 PM

Mr. Cleland;

Comcast's record speaks against it. The recent "peer-to-peer Bill of Rights" is a classic example of asking the fox to guard the hen house.

If a company wants to charge more for better service or more bandwith or whatever, that is their right and prerogative. However, Comcast lost all credibility with me as a company with honest values when they decided that they had the right to degrade access quality to certain services. Not technically illegal, perhaps, but certainly unethical.

That's why they will never get my business. It's not that I hate their product; I hate dishonesty and back-door shinanigans.

Duke Snyder

April 27, 2008 12:00 PM

I believe the response by Nathan Searcy speaks volumes regarding this issue and would echo the opinions of a large majority of those utilizing the net.
We do not want to "control" the net, we only desire stopping those sneaky Pete's whose track record speaks for themselves. Would you really expect me to accept Comcast as an arbiter anymore than expecting I would give power of attorney rights to an ex spouse???

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