net neutrality

National Cable and Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell gave the keynote address at the 2014 Cable Show, and used it as the chance to make a plea that the internet emulate the privatised cable industry, rather than government-run systems like water and electricity.

Powell argued that the reliability of cable service, as contrasted with government-managed utilities, shows that an internet managed by corporations might end up more reliable and secure than one run or heavily regulated by the government.

“It is the Internet’s essential nature that fuels a very heated policy debate that the network cannot be left in private hands and should instead be regulated as a public utility, following the example of the interstate highway system, the electric grid and drinking water. The intuitive appeal of this argument is understandable, but the potholes visible through your windshield, the shiver you feel in a cold house after a snowstorm knocks out the power and the water-main breaks along your commute should restrain one from embracing the illusory virtues of public utility regulation.”

Powell’s comments come in the wake of last week’s controversial news that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which Powell used to head up, was supposedly about to announce that ISPs would be permitted to charge certain data-heavy services for increased speeds – allowing companies such as Netflix and Amazon to strike deals to make their sites and services run faster than others.

The Electronic Frontiers Foundation worry that such rules could threaten net neutrality – net neutrality involving, among other things, an absence of the sort of private influence that Powell has encouraged. They fear that the FCC’s rules could put small companies and private individuals at a real disadvantage, and even support censorship. Others have voiced fears that the new rules could see increased costs for customers of content services, driving more of them towards piracy as a cheaper alternative.

Net neutrality is, to put it mildly, a bit of a complex issue. To be honest, it’s not entirely obvious that either the government or major corporations should get to totally run the web – but either way, an entirely neutral web isn’t looking very realistic any more.

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