An Internet Principle Worth Protecting

Friday, August 1, 2008

Robert M. McDowell of the Federal Communications Commission claimed in his July 28 op-ed, "Who Should Solve This Internet Crisis?," that the Internet community solved the 1987 capacity problem voluntarily, without interference by the government. He left out one inconvenient fact. In 1987, the companies that carried Internet traffic were under an obligation to provide nondiscriminatory carriage of data traffic, a policy adopted by the FCC in 1968.

The remarkable success of the Internet was not hampered by that obligation. On the contrary, nondiscriminatory access to the telecommunications network was one of the key building blocks in the success of the Internet.

In 1987, as now, the telecommunications firms were pushing the FCC and Congress to allow them to eliminate the obligation to manage traffic in a nondiscriminatory manner, essentially claiming that they had to destroy the Internet to save it. Policymakers and the Internet community rejected this. The Internet flourished in its commercial implementation precisely because public policy established the basic parameters within which engineers could solve problems.

Comcast's practice of slowing the video data traffic of unaffiliated Internet service providers, as a majority of FCC commissioners concluded last month it was doing, was an egregious violation of the Internet principle, a breach the FCC should ban. Let us hope that a majority of the commissioners have an accurate and complete view of history and the foresight to again stand by the principle of nondiscriminatory access.


Director of Research

Consumer Federation of America


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