It was a great day for the Internet, today. Just hours ago, the FCC ruled that Comcast violated federal policy by interfering with certain Internet traffic. In doing so, it took an important step toward assuring that the Internet remains open and free. In Chairman Martin’s words, consumers are entitled to unfettered access to the Internet. For companies like Vuze, it means that the FCC is prepared to act against tactics that threaten innovation and the level playing field of competition.
When we filed our Petition for Rulemaking with the FCC last November, along side formal complaints filed against Comcast by Free Press, Public Knowledge and others, we had no idea what the ultimate outcome would be. It now seems that the first chapter of this story is a victory for consumers, for innovation, and for all those who believe in a truly open Internet.
Today’s FCC Order does two important things. First, it makes clear that, while reasonable network management of Internet traffic is permissible, there is a line that cannot be crossed. Comcast crossed that line, and has been sanctioned accordingly. Secondly, the FCC endorsed the idea that the rule of law must be accompanied by transparency into what ISPs are actually doing to our Internet traffic.
Some have been troubled or perplexed by Chairman Martin’s dogged pursuit of this matter. Isn’t this really just about managing bandwidth hogs and, for goodness sakes, it’s not about free speech, right? No one has seriously questioned the right of network operators to reasonably manage their networks. They will continue to do so after this Order. But, there is nothing reasonable about the use of techniques that indiscriminately target applications or protocols, regardless of their use. This is something that anyone who cares about the free and open Internet should be concerned about. Equally important, all free markets require transparency in order to be effective.
Internet traffic is not merely about electronic bits; bits are content. Vuze, for one, uses peer-to-peer technology to deliver content from over 300 content owners, like PBS and Showtime, and content from thousands of our users. Are these the bits that will be shaped or blocked next by Comcast or another Internet service provider in the name of network management? Is this Adam Smith’s invisible hand of competition at work or the hands of Comcast engineers working behind the scenes?
From the beginning, we have said that this fight isn’t about us. We’re just a tiny tech company located above a Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto, California. However, we have a unique vantage point on the industry, and we feared that unfettered traffic throttling by Internet service providers could have a chilling effect on the rights of consumers, the ability of content owners and advertisers to reach their audiences, and on industry’s ability to innovate on behalf of consumers. From the beginning, we’ve called for transparency, industry collaboration leading to standardization, and a healthy dose of innovation.
None of this is possible without wise regulators who are prepared to step in judiciously to sanction forces that act improperly. Today the FCC has done just that, and on behalf of our millions of users, we thank them.