Net Neutrality Decision: Much Ado About Nothing

Go get all hot and bothered about it if you want, but I think that a federal appeals court's decision yesterday to strike down the cause of net neutrality will come down to just about nothing. (Comcast petitioned the court, after it "asserted that it had the right to slow its cable customers' access to a file-sharing service called BitTorrent", per The New York Times).

For a start, there are several legal avenues that could be navigated around the decision, including Congress deciding that broadband service should qualify as a regulated utility, which would give the FCC jurisdiction over the Internet.

But that's not entirely why I think the net-neutrality controversy is much ado about nothing. I can already see a non-neutral net coming down to being another weapon in the ongoing war for customers between cable companies, telcos, and, to a lesser extent, satellite TV providers. In that battle, any of them would be dead wrong to start steering customers to certain content, or Web sites, or to slow down access to certain sites that are bandwidth hogs. Oddly enough, the consumer might just end up winning. You can hear the ads already in your head, can't you? "Cablevision blocks access to sites like BitTorrent, forces its Optimum Web site to be your default home page and slows down YouTube because it won't pay them more money. Here at Verizon FiOS, we believe in net neutrality. Blah, blah, blah ... "

When I hear that in my head, it gives me a bad acid flashback to the recent spate of retransmission catfights, which were used by all parties involved to try to sway hearts, minds and media dollars. There is little difference here. Those who block access lose.

And, even though Comcast won yesterday, it's not as though it is going to do anything right now. One of the main regulatory hurdles in its proposed acquisition of NBC Universal is the concern it will block access from its set-top boxes to other TV content; blocking some sites to its Internet subscribers right now would be playing with fire.

Besides those issues, the hue and cry about net neutrality also ignores an increasingly salient point about how we access the Internet -- it's no longer a one-provider-per-house game. Here at the homestead, I can access the net via WiFi-enabled Optimum Online on my laptop and Droid, or use the Droid to tap into Verizon Wireless' 3G network. Our local downtown has universal WiFi from what I believe are two broadband providers, and if not, there's the network provided by the local coffee shop. We've gotten good at finding what we want, when and how we want it.

No court ruling will change that.