The clinching argument came from an unlikely quarter: a compelling investigation by The Associated Press into the way Comcast was secretly hobbling some of its Internet customers in order to manage the way data flowed through its part of the network.
The AP found that Comcast was surreptitiously "shaping" Internet traffic by bombarding its own network servers with commands that appeared to come from customers' computers. The company's practice was to put the brakes on high-bandwidth customers -- the one who routinely upload and download massive files, such as movies, music or software programs -- in order to preserve capacity for other customers. It's a reasonable goal, but the company's practice of doing it secretly while pretending to offer equal access to each high-speed customer is offensive and wrong.
The AP story is here.
Kudos to the O for taking this first step toward the light--but they aren't quite seeing the whole picture yet: They don't object to the fact that Comcast arbitrarily restricts what information passes through their system, only that Comcast didn't tell us they were doing so. The stakes are a little higher than that.
Perhaps the editors at the O, with one foot still in the analog world as well as the digital one, will recognize the bigger issue more clearly in the current fight regarding magazine postal rates. Long story short:
In March 2007, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the body that regulates postal policy in the United States, voted to drastically hike postal rates on small and independent periodicals.
The new rates — based on a plan submitted by Time Warner — shift the burden of postal costs from magazines like Time and People with large circulations and heavy advertising onto smaller magazines like The Nation and The National Review.
As a result, these smaller publications — a vital source of political opinion and ideas — are facing crippling rate increases that may force many of them to make significant cutbacks or even go out of business.
Comcast screening your access to internet content, and Time Warner determining how much it cost to mail publications other than their own--seeing the problem now?
Neutral means neutral. Imagine having, say, SmithKlineGlaxo writing the rules for what pharmaceuticals could be available to Americans and at what prices.
(Oh. Wait . . . )
The House subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia is holding hearings today on the question: "Will Increased Postal Rates Put Mailers out of Business?"
And, back to our main story: the AP reports that Dorgan and Snowe have asked Daniel Inouye, chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, to open investigations on the Comcast matter.
The last 10 months haven't exactly been the Golden Age of Congressional Investigation, but there's more hope for a good outcome now than there would have been a couple of years ago. Stay tuned.
(Cross-posted at Loaded Orygun.)