Reasonable Truth Management and Waiting for Godot Neutrality

“Reasonable.” That’s a tough word when you think about it. We all like to think we know what is reasonable and what is unreasonable. But where’s the line?

When they put that word in policies and laws, it’s usually stand in for:

We can’t or don’t want to specify specific limits here, even though we think there should be some. Um, so don’t go hog wild, OK? Please?

And, while “reasonable” often does have more specific legal meanings, that’s often the result of a court decision long after the policy or law in question was written. And usually because somebody had to go and be unreasonable and screw things up.

Today, that entity is Comcast, which, in an 80-page filing with the FCC, finally copped to the charge that the company has been interfering with its customers’ BitTorrent peer-to-peer internet traffic. The company’s defense? They were just engaging in “reasonable network management,” as permitted under the FCC’s Internet Policy Statement, which is otherwise supposed to provide for the relative open, free-flow of data on the internet.

Prior to this filing Comcast flatly denied blocking any BitTorrent traffic. Were they lying, or just engaging in “reasonable truth management?”

On the heels of this filing Rep. Ed Markey has lobbed yet another Network Neutrality bill into Congress, hoping to seize upon the growing public awareness of the actual and real attempts by the likes of Comcast, Verizon and others to filter the content on our information networks.

Of course, I think this is a good thing, even though I am a little weary of trying to get excited every time a new Net Neutrality bill or rider is announced. I also realize that the legislative process is not smooth an orderly and a certain degree of relentlessness is required. I guess that’s one reason I’m not in DC.

So, I asked a question right along these lines this afternoon in a press conference call put on by the Open Internet Coalition, inquiring, what is different about 2008 that will make the Net Neutrality effort any more successful at the FCC and in Congress?

Public Knowledge’s Gigi Sohn–one of the savviest people working on the issue, by the way–stepped up to answer, saying that there is just simply more momentum behind the issue now. It’s a better time, indicated by the fact that there are three different complaints regarding traffic blocking at the FCC right now. Furthermore, as the Open Internet Coalition’s Markham Erickson pointed out, FCC Chairman Martin just announced that the Commission will investigate these network management practices at its upcoming Boston field hearing.

Sohn also pointed to what she sees as sign as pressure coming from the electorate as evidenced by the win of Donna Edwards over old school telecom-pal Rep. Albert Wynn in the Maryland Democratic Primary yesterday. Edwards has been an outspoken proponent of Net Neutrality.

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade. I hope that Sohn and the rest of the Coalition are right and 2008 is the year we’ll see Net Neutrality become reality (again). We need it and, in a strange way, Comcast has done us all favor by vividly demonstrating the abuse that lies ahead if “reasonable network management” is allowed to become, “block whatever we damn well please.”



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