Anti-Aliased Special Edition: Net neutrality, the FCC, Comcast, and Glenn Beck

Seraphina Brennan
S. Brennan|04.07.10

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Anti-Aliased Special Edition: Net neutrality, the FCC, Comcast, and Glenn Beck
So today's Wednesday and yes, I know, my column usually doesn't run on Wednesday. However, thanks the recent ruling against the Federal Communications Commission in their net neutrality case, it seems that there's a very relevant topic to talk about as soon as possible.

Let me open by saying this -- net neutrality isn't another one of those overblown media stories, or something that we should put off on the backburner. Yet, while everyone's talking about net neutrality, few people are really talking about what it is, why you should care, and why you can't trust everything you're hearing about net neutrality. I've heard more than a few mistruths about the subject recently -- including a whole string of mistruths from everyone's favorite comedy network, Fox News.

So today, let's set some things straight and talk about net neutrality. This is very serious stuff for the avid MMO gamer, the casual online gamer, or, well, anyone who touches the Internet.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is, in short, how the Internet runs right now, more or less. It's the idea that every connection to and from the Internet is equal in speed. There is no favoritism, no websites get blocked or slowed down, and there are no "priority" lines for specific types of traffic. Your Internet provider gives you Internet, and you're free to use the Internet for browsing any website, use any type of program (more on that later), and use any one of your favorite Internet games -- like MMOs, for instance.

"It's not about the government getting all up in your business, it's about making sure that Comcast and other Internet providers don't get all up in your business."

As long as your program does not cause a malicious increase in traffic/decrease in connection speed, you can connect whatever you want to the Internet. Xboxes, PS3s, phones, cars, refrigerators, your neighbor's cat -- anything. We have a free, unrestricted pass to the Internet. That's net neutrality in a nutshell.

The FCC vs. Comcast

To make a long story short, the Associated Press found in 2007 that Comcast was lowering the speed on peer to peer connections, like BitTorrent. While the company wouldn't speak exclusively about the practice, the AP tests showed that uploads were being interfered with while downloads were not. This practice was putting any type of file sharing, including legitimate file sharing practices like any MMO updater that uses peer to peer connections (like the Blizzard Downloader or Turbine Updater,) at risk.

So, in comes the FCC to make sure Comcast treats all traffic equally, following the guidelines of net neutrality. Comcast returns fire by suing the FCC, stating that the commission doesn't have the authority to regulate how they handle Internet traffic. Comcast, and other Internet providers, assert that they need to throttle and control certain traffic because their systems are becoming overloaded, and they need to be able to regulate the transfer of information across their networks. They did, after all, spend money to build and run all of these lines.

Fast forward to yesterday, when a U.S. appeals court ruled in favor of Comcast, stating that the FCC does not have the legal authority to regulate what Comcast does with their traffic. Many believe that a blow has been struck to net neutrality, as the Comcast case would now set a legal precedent for companies to throttle and control their own traffic, no longer guaranteeing that all information transfer is treated equally.

What's Glenn Beck got to do with it?

Certain folks, like Glenn Beck, would like you to believe that net neutrality is some sort of monster that will destroy free speech and free press. He and his friends at Americans for Prosperity are stating that the FCC will be pulling a big brother, locking down the Internet with their own regulations so they can monitor it. (Of course, most of Beck's linked speech concerns slandering the opposition, not talking about net neutrality, so it's probably a bad example.)

Net neutrality is all about guaranteeing that information is treated equally, no matter the origin. It's not about the government getting all up in your business, it's about making sure that Comcast and other Internet providers don't get all up in your business. It's not about limiting free speech or limiting the press or creating more government oversight.

Look at it this way: Thanks to the Comcast merger with NBC Universal, that means the Internet giant has a stake in NBC News. If Comcast can throttle the network at their whim, what's to say that they can't slow down or block traffic to NBC competitors, like Fox News? I'm certain that Mr. Beck wouldn't like to have that happen, nor would the people over at News Corporation (the owners of Fox News.)

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