Whose Fault Is Traffic Shaping, App Blocking?

There is a big brouhaha today over Cox Communications blocking BitTorrent traffic, leading to outrage over what amounts to interference with the open Internet. The brouhaha is the result of a research study by Max Planck Institute, which found Cox, Comcast and (Singapore’s) StarHub to be anti-BitTorrent. There are some issues with this study, however — I, for one, (unlike DSL Reports) find it hard to swallow that there are no infringing phone companies.

Why is everyone surprised? I’m sure not. Cox admitted shaping traffic when we asked them about it back in October 2007, though they didn’t single out BitTorrent.

The publicity-hungry not-for-profits organizations do, however, bring up the issue of an open Internet, which is worthy of our attention — and anger — as consumers. But we need to focus our ire on the people who have helped create this mess — not ask them to get us out of it, as the Free Press proposes by suggesting that the FCC should intervene. FreePress Policy Director Ben Scott said:

“Consumers have no reason left to trust their cable company. This independent study confirms that Comcast is still blocking its customers from using popular applications — despite the FCC’s investigation and widespread public outrage…Congress and the FCC must urgently pursue the complaints against network providers.”

But this whole problem is the FCC’s making. The org, under Chairman Kevin Martin and others, has systematically dismantled broadband competition and paved the way for a duopoly (of cable and phone companies.) Martin’s predecessor claimed that broadband over power lines was a viable alternative to cable and DSL technologies that would bring in new competitors. Instead, this duopoly has thrived, and is the reason that the incumbents indulge in anti-consumer behavior. If there was thriving competition, and the cable and phone companies had to work for a living, BitTorrent blocking wouldn’t be an issue. Bandwidth would be plentiful, as it is in other developed and emerging telecom economies.

Unfortunately a lot of people seem to be falling for Martin’s nice guy act, failing to realize that it’s just a ploy for him to build some political capital before he tries to get elected to Congress to subvert the system even further. The blame lies squarely with Martin and others in the FCC: The politicians have failed their constituency and done nothing to foster real competition in the U.S. when it comes to broadband.

We’ve never really had true broadband competition, which is in my mind the real problem. What we need is a whole new approach to legislation and a brand-new FCC, one that is not encumbered by personal political ambitions and beholden to lobbyists. An FCC that puts the people first. It’s as simple as that.