The networking technology company Caspian has offered a ×??Fair Use Policy Framework×?? paper that claims to meaningfully address the current debate over the future of the U.S. broadband Internet. It has a mouthful of a subtitle: ×??A Nondiscriminatory and Noninvasive Approach to Managing Internet Traffic in Full Compliance with U.S. Law and Federal Communications Commission Policy.×?? The ×??abridged×?? version is available on its website (and is the one discussed below). A press release on the report is available.
On the one hand, we applaud the company×?Ts participation in what should be a more contested and public debate over our broadband future. But they show a lack of real understanding about why this issue is so important. Caspian dismisses the current discussion about how the Net should be governed as no more than heated rhetorical posturing. The authors of the paper should have understood that we are arguing about more than which company or industry will come out on top. Whatever is decided about so-called network neutrality will affect the quality of our lives in a democracy that is being fundamentally shaped by digital communications.
First, this is not about ×??maximizing consumer choice,×?? as they put it. It×?Ts about ensuring that digital networks strengthen civic discourse, diversity of expression, and economic opportunity. In another words, the debate is really about the role broadband communications and citizen/public participation in our society. The paper claims that ×??proponents of unlimited network neutrality×?ignore×?that increased Internet usage has resulted in increased congestion.×?? (Not surprisingly, Caspian’s message in the paper is that products such as its ×??media controllers×?? can help ensure more equitable traffic management.) But the paper fails to explore how policies requiring that the cable and telcos add more bandwidth capacity would help address many congestion concerns.
The paper does underscore why public interest groups and many new media companies are alarmed about cable/telco plans for the future of digital distribution. Caspian critiques what it terms their ×??absolutist position for unrestricted managed access×?? by underscoring how AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and others can readily impose higher consumer rates, invade our privacy, and block or impede access to online content.
We await the full paper from Caspian. But we urge readers not to readily support the notion of ×??higher-quality,×?? tiered ($) access models for broadband. It will help usher in a new generation of broadband content that potentially discriminates against users and content providers.
PS/Disclosure: Caspian cites some of our writings (and others, such as Rep. Rick Boucher and Common Cause) as examples of ×??sensationalist statements×?? about the net neutrality debate among their footnoted references. The paper also says that net neutral proponents don×?Tt see the need for fair traffic management. We do. But we don×?Tt want the cable/telco private cop patroling the digital beat.