It's the 11th hour for Comcast at the Federal Communications Commission. They were caught secretly blocking legal Internet traffic. They lied about it. On Friday, a bipartisan majority at the FCC is expected to finally hold them accountable.Let's review Comcast's strategy so far:
When a network expert and barbershop quartet enthusiast figured out his legal file-sharing was being disrupted, Comcast denied it.
When the Associated Press, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Germany's prestigious Max Planck Institute backed up his claims, Comcast stonewalled.
None of that worked. So now they're hounding the press with specious legal arguments and personal attacks on those who would dare challenge the cable giant.
Most responsible reporters see right through this bunk. But the cable flacks know there's one place that always welcomes corporate spin: the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Where else?
All Bark But Not Right
On cue, the Journal unleashed the chihuahuas on FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Wednesday. Yip! Yip!
The irony is that Martin is normally the Journal's type: A conservative Republican committed to "deregulation" taking action in the name of free market competition. But to understand that, you'd have to actually look at the evidence.
The Journal's bogus arguments -- which come straight out of the cableco hymnal -- will be familiar to anyone who has followed the Net Neutrality debate (or readers of Monday's Washington Post). But since Journal editorials are appended to the business paper of record, I suppose they merit a response.
Here are a few of the more egregious myths and misperceptions included in the Journal's latest screed:
Myth: "Martin is forcing a solution in search of a problem."
Reality: This canard is an old favorite of the phone and cable crowd. But the problem is clear: Comcast was secretly blocking Internet users from accessing and distributing legal content. It got caught. It must be held responsible.
Myth: "By all appearances, the company's policies were motivated by nothing more than making sure a tiny percentage of bandwidth hogs didn't slow down Internet traffic for everyone else on the network."
Reality: Simply untrue. All of the independent tests clearly show that Comcast wasn't just aiming for a few high-bandwidth users at peak moments; they were secretly blocking peer-to-peer protocols all day and night regardless of the size of files being transferred or how often those customers used the Internet.
Myth: "Earlier this year, the cable company reached an agreement with BitTorrent, the popular file-sharing service being used on Comcast's network, and settled the matter."
Reality: In the face of intense government and public scrutiny, Comcast issued a press release touting a side deal with the company named BitTorrent. But other firms using the same technology, like Vuze and Miro, weren't consulted. This paper-thin pact won't prevent other cable and phone companies from blocking traffic on their networks. And it doesn't apply to the next whiz-bang technology that some kid destined for the cover of Wired is cooking up in her basement right now.
Myth: "The chairman is taking a huge step toward putting in place a regulatory regime that would give the FCC ... unprecedented control over how consumers use the Web."
Reality: The Wall Street Journal loves nothing more than breaking out the bogeyman of "regulation." But the Internet we have today wouldn't exist without rules, and there will be rules going forward. What really matters is whether those rules will serve only the interest of a few big companies or benefit the rest of us who actually use the Internet everyday.
Myth: "It's also not clear that the FCC even has the authority to enforce net neutrality, because Congress has never passed a law establishing such a policy."
Reality: The FCC's authority to act on a complaint here is clearly established under the Communications Act and backed up by the Supreme Court. But that of course shouldn't stop Congress from passing a law like the Internet Freedom Preservation Act (HR 5353). We need strong safeguards on all the networks of the 21st century.
Myth: "If Comcast customers don't like the company's network management policies, they're free to take their business to Verizon, or AT&T, or some other Internet service provider."
Reality: If only that were true. Unfortunately, the phone and cable companies dominate nearly 99 percent of the market for Internet access. Americans are lucky if they have two choices, and many of us have just a single broadband option (and an unfortunate few have no service at all). If all the major carriers want to discriminate, as they've indicated they will, there's nowhere else for consumers to turn. That's why Congress and the FCC must step in.
Comcast can howl all it wants, but the FCC shouldn't listen.
As they say in Texas, that dog won't hunt.
Craig Aaron is the communications director of Free Press, the national, non partisan media reform group. He works in the Washington office on issues related to media ownership, public media and the future of the Internet. He writes and speaks regularly on media and journalism issues and blogs at both SavetheInternet.com and StopBigMedia.com.
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