In what appears to be a major victory for net neutrality advocates, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin stated last week that Comcast’s practice of “throttling” certain groups of users is wrong and should be punished:
“’The commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers access to the Internet,’ the commission chairman, Kevin J. Martin, told The Associated Press late Thursday. ‘We found that Comcast’s actions in this instance violated our principles.’”
“‘If they [Comcast] are going to put limits on individual customers if you use a certain amount of bandwidth per month or per hour, they have to be willing to tell their customers more about how it works’,”
Throttling is when a provider slows the Internet access speeds of particular users. Most of the controversy stems from the selective nature with which it is often applied, as providers rarely shed light on how or what causes someone to be selected for throttling.
This was the case with Comcast, as they were found to be slowing users of the BitTorrent method of downloading and uploading files, regardless of the size and frequency of their uploading and downloading.
Providers continue to describe throttling as “network management techniques” that are necessary in order to ensure that small groups of high-demand users aren’t hogging large amounts of the available bandwidth. Skeptics say that cable and phone Internet providers feel that their pay television businesses are threatened by free online video services, and that they use throttling as a way to punish people for using them.
Critics also say that throttling may result in a 2-tier Internet where the privileged few (i.e. Fortune 500 companies, etc.) receive unfettered super fast access, while the vast majority of individual users are relegated to a throttled slow lane.
The push for net neutrality (i.e. no throttling) is a delicate one as it could cause broadband providers to implement metered Internet access, where users would be charged based on the amount of data they upload/download, rather than the unlimited access that is common today.
Verizon Fios and other Fiber-To-The-Home technologies appear to be better positioned to deal with the increasing bandwidth demands of today’s Internet users, as their end-to-end fiber connections provide much greater bandwidth per user (Fios offers 20mb/s upload and download). This may render throttling and other controversial network optimization techniques employed by cable and phone networks unneccessary.
There will be more to come on throttling for sure, but this is an important first indication as to where the U.S. Government stands.