While it’s no secret that new Net Neutrality regulations were recently implemented by the FCC, and that internet service has been reclassified as a Title-II utility. The exact details of these regulations have, until recently, remained shady.
Now that the full text of these regulations has been made available, we can take a look at some of the finer details of the new Net Neutrality and Title II classification. Honestly, the document doesn’t seem to reveal too much that isn’t expected. Many are championing the new regulations as a victory, and advocates of Net Neutrality would appear right to do so. There doesn’t seem to be any secret agenda woven into the text of these regulations, but there are some unwanted relics of the past.
Of particular concern are the passages regarding ‘reasonable network management’ as it pertains to ‘copyright protection.’ These passages allow ISPs to act as the internet police, blocking and throttling customers they deem to be engaged in illegal activity. This is somewhat ironic because it was Comcast’s throttling of BitTorrent users that brought Net Neutrality to a head in the first place. Also ironic is that when the FCC discovered that Comcast was clandestinely throttling their BitTorrent users, they ordered them to stop. Comcast agreed to move away from this behavior and stated that they would find another way to manage their internet traffic.
After all that, one might imagine that the FCC would attempt to protect internet users from these types of actions with their shiny new regulations. Unfortunately, the FCC seems to have forgotten about this, and has left a huge loophole in their new document. A loophole which ISPs may be able to abuse.
The new Net Neutrality regulations don’t just repeat old rules regarding the blocking and management of copyright infringing data, but seem to further empower ISPs to deal with the issue. The document iterates several times that ISPs may block and throttle illegal content. On the surface, this may seem very reasonable, but the problem is… the document doesn’t set forth any standard for which to determine whether users are engaging in illegal acts. It seems to indicate that ISPs may block and throttle their users on the mere suspicion of illegal activity.
While it’s one thing for an ISP to block illegal activity based on a courtroom verdict. It is completely another for it to be in the position to judge or guess which actions from its users are illegal, and then block content based on their own assumptions.
The EFF’s hall of shame already paints a disturbing picture of overzealous copyright protection. This dubious honor goes to sites and services that were taken down by illegitimate copyright claims against a wide array of users, many of which did not have the means to fight the take-down orders. Orders that should have never been given in the first place.
Thanks to these loopholes in the new Net Neutrality regulations, we are looking at a situation where an ISP may block or throttle your traffic simply because you do something they deem as suspicious. It’s possible they could block entire websites. Even a place as notorious as The Pirate Bay may still have viewers that are not engaging in illegal activity. For instance, I may wish to visit the site to take screen captures or look at their forums to gather information for an article. There are also many public-domain items that are accessible from that site.
If ISPs choose to use these new regulations as an excuse to molest and inhibit the data of their users, we could find it a bit more difficult to use BitTorrent. It’s important to note that BitTorrent is becoming more popular for legitimate uses. League of Legends uses it to help speed up the downloads of their client. Anything that uses the often maligned Pando Media Booster uses BitTorrent, and Pando is included in many games across the web. It’s also worth mentioning that Microsoft plans to use BitTorrent style peer to peer as a means of disseminating updates for Windows 10.
In the end, it’s probably too early to raise the alarm here, but the wording of the new Net Neutrality regulations does seem to give ISPs unprecedented power to police their bandwidth. Whether and how they choose to use that power is the question. It may be that they don’t to do anything above and beyond what they are already doing. If they did decide to be more aggressive and block P2P applications and sites like The Pirate Bay, we can rest assured someone would cause a stink and it’d make headlines. For now, we must wait and see how things unfold…