As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps [reminded us](http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-282821A1.doc) recently, the one concrete example of Net Neutrality we have, the conditions on AT&T’s takeover of BellSouth, expire at the end of the year. The concept of an Internet governed by discrimination, rather than by openness, looms as a real possibility.
Thanks to AT&T and Comcast, however, we now can see what an Internet without Net Neutrality will look like, and it’s not pretty. Right up front, we should thank our friends who labor in the neighboring vineyards of what’s called “public access” cable TV, the part of cable reserved for public, educational and governmental programming.
Turning the first initials of these sectors into an acronym, these are the PEG channels that local governments have been fighting to keep as Congress, and then state governments, rushed to grant telephone companies statewide franchises to offer video services in competition with cable companies. The Congressional effort failed, but telephone companies have been more successful at the state level. Local governments fight every day to protect the gains they negotiated with cable companies, and some [local government officials](http://www.natoa.org/Documents/StateLegSurveyExecSummFinal.pdf) believe they are losing as incumbents switch their franchising status from old rules to new.
All this is relevant to Net Neutrality because the new video systems are technically more like the Internet than they are a traditional cable system. The new systems run over an Internet Protocol network, giving them lots of flexibility. They are also relevant because they show how AT&T is using this flexibility to the disadvantage of local governments.
What you will see in the video is a timed demonstration of what a non-neutral Internet will look like. The video demonstration shows how AT&T tucks away the PEG channels it doesn’t care about. Each service doesn’t get its own channel. Instead, the services are buried under multi-layer menus. Instead of taking a mere second or two to change channels, as with normal TV channels, it takes closer to two minutes to navigate to a particular PEG channel. And instead of simply changing channels from a PEG channel, the watcher has to navigate backward through the menu.
As my favorite old-time sportscaster used to say, “Let’s go to the videotape.”
If this were all that was going on, it would be bad enough. But Comcast, those of the BitTorrent throttling and seat-holding variety, have given us another demonstration of how they intend to keep control over their network.
A couple of weeks ago (apologies for being late with this), the group Blue America PAC wanted to buy ads criticizing Rep. Chris Carney (D-PA) for his support of legislation to allow even more unconscionable wiretapping. According to prominent legal commentator [Glenn Greenwald,](http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/06/09/comcast/index.html) many TV stations, radio stations and newspapers in Carney’s district took the ads. But not Comcast. The cable giant, which contributes to Carney’s campaign, wouldn’t air an ad critical of a Congressman who is helping Comcast on an issue because of the laughable threat of a defamation lawsuit – over an issue of public importance – because the ads argued that telecom companies broke the law by wiretapping without permission.
Comcast has the right to refuse an ad, but the refusal also betrays a particular mindset that is not conducive to the free and open exchange of views on which the Internet was founded and which Comcast now, with its PEG-hiding telephone brother, wants to control.
Put these two examples together, and you get a pretty good idea of what the Internet will look like if these guys get the control over the Internet they want.