It’s an inflection point, a phase change of sorts, that we’re going through in internet policy. Chronic disappointment is settling in, and it shouldn’t.
Ten years ago no one would have dreamed that telcos would be free to legally filter, degrade, and block internet access in late 2007, or that Europe would be taking the lead in global internet policy – with the aim of permitting/requiring even more filtering, degrading, and blocking. That’s where we are now. We can’t allow this state of affairs to become the new normal.
This dim set of expectations, this new normal, is created through new laws, new institutions, and new asymmetries of information. (This trio has come around before.)
Whatever the structure of the specific piracy problem, every person that accesses the internet must do so through an ISP, and each ISP has complete technical and commercial control over the traffic that is generated by its own customers.
That’s the assumption, that ISP gatekeepers can and should use content filtering, protocol blocking, and site blocking to protect the content industry (and the ISP’s own business plans). DeepSweep can do this! AT&T can do this! All French ISPs can do this!
Meanwhile, the FCC’s reputation (and, in particular, the credibility and independence of its chair) is at a low point. There’s an LA Times piece today that puts the story together:
On Nov. 27, for instance, the FCC was slated to consider controversial proposals dealing with potential new cable TV regulations and increasing women and minority ownership of broadcast stations. Journalists, lobbyists and spectators waited as the five commissioners on the fractious panel wrangled over the issues eight floors above. When they finally showed up for the public session — nearly 12 hours late — the few spectators remaining had front-row seats for the sniping and accusations that are threatening to become hallmarks of FCC meetings.
Critics usually blame Martin, a soft-spoken Republican known as a political tactician who has accomplished the rare feat of being criticized by all four of his fellow commissioners. He is also facing a congressional inquiry into the FCC’s procedures and allegations of flawed research studies, suppressing data, ignoring public input and holding hearings with minimal notice.
The inflection point, the phase change for internet policy, could go either way. We could, as a country, take plasticity as the goal for internet policy — constant learning, constant change, new opportunities to be new, thinking of bits as flowing (or even gaseous!) above utilitarian infrastructure. This direction would have distinct implications for laws and institutions. We’d need a re-written Communications Act focused on nondiscrimination and a regulator who was determined to allow for as much common-carriage internet access as possible. We’d need much more information about how undifferentiated packets actually are moving across networks, and we’d need to ensure that network providers weren’t differentiating them.
Or we could harden the system, optimize it for billing and security, keep all packets safe and authenticated, and entrust private, dominant gatekeepers with our online future.
The attacks on Martin might be welcome – but even in the absence of a strong pro-telco regulator the industry keeps marching along in a way that isn’t helpful.
*Cross-posted from [Susan Crawford blog](http://scrawford.net/blog).*