The following article recently appeared on ExtremeTech.com.
Analysis: Vuze’s Allegations Are Anecdotal, But Troubling
By Art Reisman
Marvin Ammori of Free Press recently referenced a report issued by a third party company, Vuze, that insinuates with some evidence that ISPs are blocking certain kinds of Internet content.
While I respect Marvin’s right to his opinion, and support the mission of FreePress.net, I was asked to comment on his assertions by the editors of PC Magazine and ExtremeTech.
As to the report issued by Vuze: I read their findings over and they were very careful to point out that their evidence is anecdotal in nature. Other than Comcast, which was outed and forced to admit its practice of blocking peer-to-peer traffic under certain conditions, the report does nothing to convince me conclusively of any deliberate blocking. In today’s world, anybody can assert something from scant evidence and there will be a bandwagon of followers drawing their own conclusions for a variety of reasons. Marvin’s reasons for jumping the bandwagon are noble but I think we must be careful here.
Now let’s get to Marvin’s comments.
“Vuze’s report suggests what many have feared all along: In addition to Comcast, other phone and cable companies may be censoring legal Web traffic over their networks. Many industry practices remain unknown and are increasingly difficult to detect.”
I can not agree more that industry practices are unknown and difficult to detect; that is an understatement and something I alluded to I wrote last year: “Consumers and innovators cannot be expected to police for abuse, nor should they have to accept interference until their network provider is exposed. Until the FCC makes it clear that it will not tolerate Internet blocking, phone and cable companies will continue to engage in this harmful practice.”
However looking to the government to solve this issue with mandates can easily backfire into a quagmire.
The Internet is what it is today exactly because no regulatory body hovers over it at every turn, although it has become vital and one could argue that somebody must protect it. However, the right way to protect it is to use antitrust laws to make sure consumers have a choice. You might also force some truth in advertising laws to insure consumers have accurate information when choosing a provider. Consumers are smart and savvy and will go with the provider that gives them the best service.
However, I would draw the line and not dictate to providers and tell them how to handle traffic congestion. There are legitimate overload situations on a network that can cause gridlock, and an honest effort to avoid these situations is what most ISPs strive for. Yes, some may view this as greedy abhorrent behavior, but you can’t have it both ways. If you want a government-run Internet, then come out and lobby for it — but declare your motives! But for now, these are public companies and over-regulating them will backfire. The way to solve it is with consumer choice and not another office at the FCC.
For example: We have three choices for broadband Internet in my part of Colorado: Comcast, Qwest and Mesa Networks. Mesa is the local wireless ISP here in the Front range. I know for a fact that Mesa Networks does not block or re-direct BitTorrent traffic. The competition is too fierce and being the smaller player, it is in their interest to provide top notch service. Unfortunately, some areas of the country may only have one option and I would concede in this case the FCC needs a soft hand:
1) Do not allow an incumbent to own both wired and licensed frequencies in the same area (if they are the only player). I am aware of several investors that plan to offer high speed internet services over licensed frequencies.
2) Require truth in advertising about contention ratios on a network; contention ratios dictate how many users share an Internet resource.
3) Require ISPs to divulge what bandwidth control techniques they deploy. Note this stops short of telling them what to do.
As for my personal bias, my position as CTO of NetEqualizer, a company that makes bandwidth controllers, seems to insinuate that I am in the pocket of the ISPs. Yes, that is a bias, but for the bulk of this discussion I view the large service providers as a consumer. Big agnostic corporations driven by their stockholders’ greed drive me crazy. Most are not my customers, however I just happen to understand both sides of this equation, as I live and breath bandwidth control for many verticals, and not just public ISPs.