The End of Net Neutrality?

Comcast can decide which of its customers can do what on the Internet. A federal court ruled on Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn't have the authority to make broadband providers treat all Internet traffic equally. That means that the company that provides your Internet service can effectively block your access to parts of the web.

In 2007, it became clear that Comcast was selectively blocking access to BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service. Comcast claimed that it was simply preventing customers that use file-sharing services from slowing down traffic for other users—because transferring files uses so much bandwidth, a relatively small number of users could significantly slow web access for everyone else. Since there isn't an unlimited amount of bandwidth available, Comcast argued, they have to prevent people from using it all up. But this kind of "traffic-shaping" gives companies that control the "last mile" of web infrastructure—the part that connects your computer or phone to the rest of the Internet—broad leeway to decide what people can do online. And it could allow companies to charge customers more preferential access to the Internet, as well as keep them from using their competitors' services. It was probably not be a coincidence that Comcast blocked access to a service that competes with its cable business. Along the same lines, AT&T originally prevented iPhone users from using Skype on its network, explaining that "we have no obligation—nor should we have—to facilitate or subsidize our competitors' businesses." And now it comes out that Windstream Communications, a DSL provider with more than a million customers, has been preventing its customers from using other search services by redirecting queries to its own proprietary service.

That's why so many people have advocated the principle of "net neutrality." As net neutrality advocate Google famously put it, "Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online." So after it came out that Comcast was blocking access to BitTorrent, the FCC ordered the company to stop the practice on the grounds that the broadband providers shouldn't determine what people can or can't do on the Internet. And last year the FCC called for formal rules ensuring that everyone be allowed the same freedom to use the Internet as they see fit. On Tuesday, however, a federal court ruled unanimously that without explicit statutory the FCC can't tell broadband providers how to manage their networks. Now, in all likelihood, the fight over access to the Internet will move to Congress, where telecom companies have been lobbying hard against net neutrality laws. As FCC spokesperson Jen Howard said, "Today’s court decision invalidated the prior commission’s approach to preserving an open internet. But the court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet. Nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end."

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

4 reasons Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for universal basic income

In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.

(Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
  • The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
  • Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
Keep reading Show less

Why avoiding logical fallacies is an everyday superpower

10 of the most sandbagging, red-herring, and effective logical fallacies.

Photo credit: Miguel Henriques on Unsplash
Personal Growth
  • Many an otherwise-worthwhile argument has been derailed by logical fallacies.
  • Sometimes these fallacies are deliberate tricks, and sometimes just bad reasoning.
  • Avoiding these traps makes disgreeing so much better.
Keep reading Show less

Why I wear my life on my skin

For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

  • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
  • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
  • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
Keep reading Show less