There are so many hot button issues today it's not possible to pick "the" biggest one. But certainly in the top five (unfrtunately there are 100 things in the top 5) must be "net neutrality." Essentially it is whether commercial internet service providers (like Comcast or RCN) should be allowed to give preference to certain kinds of traffic over others, in effect controlling which websites we can see and which ones we can't. Net neutrality, which is in theory what we have now, would make it mandatory that service providers be neutral in how they treat traffic. Data packets are data packets, irrespective of content. Needless to say those of us who depend on free and unfettered use of the internet (and that should be almost all of us) strongly support net neutrality. Not surprisingly the Big Boys like Comcast, AT&T, etc., don't. In fact Comcast has been caught throttling some kinds of traffic already and this week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held hearings on complaints against Comcast in a venue at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It wasn't a campus event, however. It was open to everyone. It was a public hearing. Except Comcast had already taken measures to assure that not everyone would be heard from. Call it the Net Proprietary Principle:
How big are the stakes in the so-called network neutrality debate now raging before Congress and federal regulators?
Consider this: One side in the debate actually went to the trouble of hiring people off the street to pack a Federal Communications Commission meeting yesterday?and effectively keep some of its opponents out of the room.
Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury said that the company paid some people to arrive early and hold places in the queue for local Comcast employees who wanted to attend the hearing.
Some of those placeholders, however, did more than wait in line: They filled many of the seats at the meeting, according to eyewitnesses. As a result, scores of Comcast critics and other members of the public were denied entry because the room filled up well before the beginning of the hearing. (Portfolio)
There are pictures of paid seat warmers sleeping in the seats they were paid to occupy (not giving them up to Comcast employees) and more pictures of Comcast later paying off those with yellow highlighters in their pockets, the sign that you were a Comcast dummy. Comcast is notorious in so many ways none of this is surprising.
But it sure is infuriating.
I did technical support for Comcast from Edmonton, AB Canada! I was sure glad we didn't have Comcast here, because they're terrible!
Sadly, our Canadian ISPs are not much better. Shaw has been throttling Bittorrent for a couple of years already.
I recently blogged my experience with Comcast after having moved from Cablevision turf into Comcast territory:
The Consumerist is currently polling on "The Worst Company in America." Out of 121 companies nominated, you'll be pleased to note that Comcast is currently leading the pack with 20% of all votes. (The nearest competitor is Best Buy at 8%.) You can see the poll and add your vote at:
In addition, The Consumerist is reporting today that Comcast will add a $2 surcharge to your bill if you ask them to stop sending you any email besides your bill. http://consumerist.com/362099/comcast-will-charge-you-2-to-stop-sending…
I am all for net neutrality, but there are some technical issues too. There are good reasons for defining quality of service guarantees for certain protocols. You don't want your internet telephone service to be disrupted by heavy traffic. But limiting protocols like bit torrent should be illegal. The preferred solution is giving priority to real time protocols, not inhibiting bandwidth intensive protocols like bittorrent. But who is to define what protocols have priority? Certainly not your ISP.
I suggest letting the consumer decide on his/her own quality of service and paying the ISP appropriately for bandwidth guarantees. But that will never happen with today's uncompetitive last-mile communications marketplace. The ISP sees too much potential for a revenue stream from contracts with internet companies or providing their own services (i.e. Comcast Voice). Unfortunately legislation is probably the best solution.
The last 20 years or so have given the conclusion "unfortunately, the best solution is probably legislation" a distinctly ominous sound. Yeah, and the same congresscritters who routinely have legislation written by the lobbyists for the relevant industries will do a great job there, we can surely count on them.
albatross: Well, there's legislation and legislation. A law that says it is illegal to do certain things doesn't sound to me so ominous. The position that we shouldn't have laws that make anything illegal does. Either one can be a problem. So I'd say the problem is symmetrical, as in most cases.