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FCC's McDowell: The Internet Will Stop If You Regulate Comcast
Guess we know which way he's going to vote on Friday...
by Karl Bode 05:04PM Monday Jul 28 2008
With three of his colleagues likely to vote to "sanction" (whatever that means) but not fine Comcast on Friday for misleading consumers, FCC Commissioner and former telecom lobbyist Robert McDowell pens an editorial for the Washington Post. McDowell trots out the tired "Internet apocalypse" talking point favored by cable and phone lobbyists, while arguing that government should stay out of such debates about fairness and honesty -- because carriers have things all under control. McDowell goes so far as to suggest that having a functional regulatory authority would result in the end of the Internet:
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If we choose regulation over collaboration, we will be setting a precedent by thrusting politicians and bureaucrats into engineering decisions. Another concern is that as an institution, the FCC is incapable of deciding any issue in the nanoseconds that make up Internet time. And asking government to make these decisions could mean that every few years the ground rules would change based on election results. The Internet might grind to a halt in such a climate.
So according to McDowell, if he actually did his job and let issue-by-issue technical intellect dictate his positions instead of industry-fealty and partisan obedience, the Internet would fall down dead. However, just like when McDowell penned an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that pretended the United States has no broadband coverage gaps (also not-so coincidentally precisely mirroring cable and phone lobbyists), facts were apparently optional.

McDowell intentionally blurs the line between government interfering in responsible network management, and government stepping in to prevent consumers from being screwed. In this case, Comcast was forging TCP packets to erode P2P connectivity for all users (regardless of consumption), and then lying about it. Whether the FCC really has the authority to police Comcast on this matter or not, it was only the fear of regulation that resulted in Comcast announcing they'd adopt more transparent network management. Depending on how transparent Comcast's new throttling is, regulation, or at least the fear of it, was actually very useful here.

As for "thrusting politicians and bureaucrats into engineering decisions," that would be quickly fixed if the government started hiring non-partisan, independent engineers and technologists as FCC Commissioners, and stopped staffing the agency with lobbyists.

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