FCC Slaps Non-Neutral Comcast While Congress Forces Colleges to be Non-Neutral

Anyone waking up at noon today and looking into net neutrality issues would have found two ironically juxtaposed headlines facing them.

First, the big news. The FCC has appointed itself the net neutrality police, ruling on supposedly non-binding principles that Comcast violated by slowing down Bittorrent traffic and ordering them to disclose exactly how and to stop. Chairman Martin jumped ship to side with the two Democrats on the Commission. Though the cable industry in general had fought the ruling, Comcast’s competitors backed it. Somewhat out of character, the ACLU took a pro-government stance and supported the ruling. Interesting, the ruling was unclear as to whether it would be acceptable for an ISP to engage in Comcast-like network management if the ISP overtly disclosed what it was doing.

But at the same time as the FCC was enshrining net neutrality in the government rulebooks, Congress was mandating that some ISPs – namely, universities – eschew net neutrality. In fact, Congress wants colleges to do pretty much what Comcast did, only a grander scale. The new Higher Education Act “will require universities to provide students with access to commercial music downloading services and implement traffic filtering technologies in order to deter peer-to-peer filesharing.” Apparently, “universities will have to begin authoring formal piracy deterrence plans,” including anti-P2P filtering technology.

Interestingly, the cable industry already noticed this strange dual treatment of cable ISPs and universities that provide their students with internet access, arguing that “if there is to be regulation… it must apply equally to all providers.” I guess the government disagrees. Or, more likely, the regulatory state has grown so large that it does not even adopt a consistent stance on what practices are acceptable. As I’ve said before, “While we here at CEI oppose mandating net neutrality, we also oppose mandating violating it. The market – not government – is best-suited to decide which network management tools work best against congestion while providing what customers want.”

Net neutrality: damned by Congress if you do, damned by the FCC if you don’t.