Column: Net Neutrality loses out in Comcast deal
Comcast has recently made a series of moves that have brought into question Net Neutrality rules, the role of the FCC and the business model of the Internet. Their $45 billion bid for Time Warner Cable is the latest move by the world's largest mass media and communication company, and if it goes through it would give Comcast access to a third of the nation's cable customers and nearly 40 percent of the nation's broadband customers.
But companies buy companies all the time. That's nothing new. It is the response in Washington that should concern every Internet user in America.
An April 9 Senate Judiciary Hearing investigated the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. The 18-member committee consists of 10 Democrats and eight Republicans and should be impartial to the parties involved.
That was all for show, as every senator on that committee has taken money from Comcast's political action committee.
The highlight of the morning came from Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., when he brought up Net Neutrality rules. When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal in 2011, it voluntarily adopted Net Neutrality rules through 2018. Leahy expressed in a statement that he "hoped that Comcast would accept an extension of these rules beyond 2018."
Hope implies that Leahy and his colleagues have little control over Net Neutrality and that they will rely on the good faith of Comcast not to do wrong by the consumer. That hope was misplaced months ago when Comcast decided to throttle Netflix and relaunch the Net Neutrality debate.
Net Neutrality is based on the idea that all packets transferred through the Internet should be treated with the same priority. That means that the Kingman Daily Miner's website will be able to operate at the same speeds and priority as bigger websites like Amazon or Google. You can think of it like our open interstate system. All the cars, or packets, can freely travel between destinations at the same speeds without discrimination.
ISPs can neither be paid nor offer preferential service to specific companies to throttle their traffic. Think of throttled traffic like toll roads, where you can pay money to get better traffic speed.
The FCC also has their "Open Internet Rules" which state three things; ISPs must be transparent, they must never block lawful content, and they must never unreasonably discriminate among network traffic.
A couple of months ago, Comcast decided that Netflix was using too much bandwidth on their networks as a peer provider and throttled their data significantly. This created a poor experience for Netflix's customers, as their video was choppy and at times unwatchable. Comcast wanted money from Netflix to allow them full access to their network. While Netflix strongly objected and cried out Net Neutrality foul play, they paid Comcast because they didn't want to risk losing Comcast's significant customer base.
Comcast challenged Net Neutrality and won.
If Net Neutrality was law, this issue would have been solved in court. However, in January, a federal appeals court stated that the FCC does not have the authority to create Open Internet Rules. The rules are guidelines, not laws. The FCC is still working on a new set of rules and legislation that enforces Net Neutrality.
Countries are already lapping the United States in passing their own Net Neutrality laws. Brazil passed their "Internet Constitution" that protects freedom of expression on the Internet and sets limits on what metadata on Internet users can be gathered. The European Union adopted Net Neutrality rules this year that made throttling data unlawful.
While other countries are securing that critical pillar of Internet freedom, we have Comcast who's whittling at the base of it. They would love nothing more than to keep Net Neutrality on the sidelines.
They can do it, too. Comcast posted $13.6 billion in income last year. Their PAC already spent $2.1 million in 2014 and their donations cross party lines. They are big enough to influence any Net Neutrality legislation, and with the acquisition of Time Warner Cable there won't be very many big names to challenge them.
Comcast is threatening more than just the quality of your Netflix stream. Net Neutrality prevents lawful content from being blocked. That is the foundation of the Internet: freedom of information. Information is a right, not a commodity. Without Net Neutrality, all that information is open to exploitation, profit and manipulation.
Are we honestly expected to trust a company like Comcast with the responsibility of maintaining a free and open Internet?