Control of Internet at issue involving net neutrality

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By Sherry Robinson

In an economy with too few jobs to offer displaced workers, some have taken a deep breath and started a home business. Others are employed by companies with home-based worker programs.
These folks are the fastest growing segment of the economy, and they don’t get enough respect, says Community Economics Lab, a consulting firm that has a pilot program in Los Lunas. Its goal is to find ways to support home-based workers.
It’s one more reason to be concerned about the Internet. Last week 400 people attended a town hall in Albuquerque to discuss net neutrality. Organized by advocacy groups, the meeting targeted minorities. It was no accident that it coincided with the National Congress of American Indians’ annual convention.
“Net neutrality” means that Internet service providers treat all content, from the Viagra ad to your mom’s e-mail, equally. It’s become a debate over whether government or corporations should control the Net.
A few years ago Comcast secretly blocked traffic from BitTorrent, a file-sharing application provider. When users found out, they made a stink.
Comcast subsequently agreed to work with BitTorrent, but advocacy groups demanded that the Federal Communications Commission keep Internet providers in line.
Last spring a circuit court ruled in Comcast’s favor but affirmed that the FCC has the right to regulate the Internet, within limits.
Tech blogger Andy Oram, in an analysis circulated to members of the New Mexico Tech Council, found Comcast’s behavior biased and arbitrary, but it wasn’t an evil corporate plot. The decision by one network administrator “was a clumsy reaction by a beleaguered company to a phenomenon it didn’t really understand. Historically, it will prove an oddity…”
The FCC should promote the spread of affordable, high-speed networking, he said, by regulating the lines, “not what travels over those lines.”
Industry, anxious to avoid any more regulation, in June assembled the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG) to develop broadband network management practices. Such groups can be quite effective, but to Net advocates BITAG looks more like a coyote than a watch dog.
Providers want tiered pricing based on speed, reliability and security. Nice for those who can afford it, but what about that new home business in Los Lunas or Laguna or Lovington? What about schools and nonprofits? Their Web sites could be relegated to the bottom of the heap in terms of speed and access. When FCC Commissioner Michael Copps championed openness and told town hall participants that the FCC will fight to enforce net neutrality, he got a standing ovation.
“Right now, there are a few companies that have the ability to control what we see and do online, with or without our knowledge,” he writes. It’s not about regulating the Internet, it’s about ensuring that consumers control their online experience. He sees the FCC as a referee.
Others see government as the restraining hand that could slow Net development. Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America, criticized town hall organizers for being stuck in “yesterday’s thinking” about telecom regulation. He doesn’t have a problem with treating data differently; from the beginning, engineers accepted prioritizing certain data to improve efficiency and access.
Randy Sanchez, chairman of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, argues: “What New Mexico needs is better and faster broadband service, especially in hard-hit rural areas.
What we definitely do not need is a new blanket of federal regulations that make our Internet service slower and more expensive.”
Because there’s so much at stake and we’re already living with the wreckage of financial corporations run amok, it’s hard to swallow self-regulation by the likes of Comcast and Microsoft. But if the FCC is standing by with a big stick, it’s in the providers’ own interest to self-regulate. It’s worth giving BITAG a chance.

By Sherry Robinson
NM News Services