End of Net Neutrality? The Real Battle is Just Beginning

April 6, 2010

Given that the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals today smacked down the FCC’s ham-handed attempt to impose net neutrality rules on Comcast from a couple years ago, it’s no surprise that many folks are proclaiming this to be the end of net neutrality and a blow to the Obama administration’s telecom plans.

They should know better.

All this does is mark the start of the real battle for not just net neutrality, but for control over matters broadband and beyond.

In reality, today’s decision is probably a somewhat welcome one for the Julius Genachowski-led FCC and the Obama telecom troops, since it officially removes the taint of questionable decisions led by former FCC chairman Kevin Martin from the net neutrality debate. Martin, the friend of big telcos like AT&T and Verizon, ostensibly presided over the implementation of the net neutrality “principles” back in 2005 and then the Comcast case itself. But being by all accounts a very smart guy, Martin is probably laughing out loud somewhere now, knowing that his tactics and decisions probably got the end goal he and his backers truly wanted — mass confusion around net neutrality and the FCC’s role in adjucating it.

Though we’ve sort of been off the policy beat lately, I remember asking lots of insiders about the Comcast decision after it was initially passed, and even the most pro-net neutrality types all thought it would eventually be overturned like it was today. “Good result, bad process” was the way one net neut proponent summed up the original FCC ruling. Good call.

But since Obama’s election, Genachowski and other administration types have been busy looking well beyond the Comcast case, putting in motion not only a separate net neutrality proceeding, but also developing the recently released national broadband plan, which if executed as described will go a long ways toward making net neutrality principles part of everyday regulatory practices — not by trying to define the slippery idea of net neutrality itself but by implementing a raft of actual measurable, enforceable things like truth in broadband-speed advertising and transparency in network management practices.

Should the broadband plan’s metrics-based ideas come to pass, network service providers would have a hard time hiding the kind of dubious practices that got Comcast in hot water in the first place. And just like with the health care bill, Obama and the Democrats probably have all the votes they need right now to pass new net neutrality regulations should they so desire — in fact insiders we have talked to in the big telco camps fully expect that some sort of net neutrality regulation will appear before the end of the year. But that also means they’re gearing up to fight it, if for no other reason than to keep the nuns safe from Google.

We digress. Clearly there is much more still to happen, and we’ll be watching while it does. But the end of net neutrality? In reality, a much bigger battle for the ultimate control of the nation’s networks has just begun.


Comcast Discloses, Then Hits the Comments Trail

September 20, 2008

Hitting the deadline with the precision that only a journalist could love, Comcast filed its paperwork with the FCC at about the latest hour imaginable Friday, disclosing both its previous/current “network management” techniques as well as its “protocol agnostic” techniques it would use going forward, all of this made necessary by the FCC’s punitive order against the cable provider earlier this summer.

Since we here at Sidecut Reports have already deemed the Comcast order details as just the starting point for the next phase of the network neutrality debate, we’ll leave it to others like Cynthia Brumfield at IP Democracy and Richard Bennett of Broadband Politics to pick the specifics apart right now in their own precise and worth-reading styles. What’s really most interesting to us at this late hour is how Comcast rep Jason Livingood is impressively fighting the flak in the comments section over at GigaOM, our alma mater.

Livingood is doing an excellent job of staying “on message” for the cable provider, not getting emotional. He’s also getting some backup from the aforementioned Bennett, who always seems amazed that folks generally understand sewer systems but can’t come to technical grips with networks. For what it’s worth, offering sane, balanced commentary on one of the better-read tech blogs seems to be a giant leap forward from Comcast’s earlier debate moves, like paying people to sleep in chairs at FCC meetings. It’s probably small beer to Harold, but it does count as progress. Kinda.