I tend to be skeptical
when people start screaming "net neutrality" when it's not warranted, but here's a situation where it may be worth asking a few questions. We've been wondering
for some time why AT&T would agree
to help NBC try to block the transfer of any unauthorized content on its network. It made very little sense at the time. AT&T (in its previous versions) had actually been one of the big proponents of the "safe harbor" clause in the DMCA that meant it didn't need to police the content on its own network. So why would it suddenly, voluntarily, be saying it wants to spend time, money and energy in an impossible effort to police the content shared across its own network?
A clue may be found in an MPAA FCC filing over the summer, where it spoke stridently against
any network neutrality rules, for fear that such rules might make it impossible for ISPs to police content -- something the MPAA has been pushing for
over the last few months, resulting in the recent PRO IP bill
(which is actually very anti IP
, but that's a different story). Basically, the MPAA (mainly NBC Universal) was offering up a compromise plan to the telcos: you support us by policing your network and we'll support you in trying to double charge
With that said, it should come as no surprise that NBC Universal and AT&T are now acting like best buddies
as they discuss plans for filters. Lobbyists from both companies were at CES saying typically misleading things. AT&T's James Cicconi talked about how what was being done to stop piracy wasn't enough -- but fails to note that it's not his problem
. Legally. Legally, AT&T shouldn't even get close to trying to police its own network, as it actually opens the company up to more liability. But, in its greed to be able to set up extra tollbooths, the company appears to recognize that using "piracy" as an excuse for blocking is a way in the backdoor, potentially even around the very promises
AT&T made to keep the net neutral for 30 months in order to get approval to buy BellSouth.
The statement from NBC Universal is even worse -- but not at all surprising, coming from the man, Rick Cotton, who gave us the easily proven false statement about how piracy was hurting the poor corn farmers
of America (who aren't hurting at all, and on whom piracy has no impact). When it was pointed out to Cotton that blocking content could be legally questionable, his response wasn't to address the actual concerns over filtering, but to go with the ever creative defense of throwing up his hands in frustration: "The volume of peer-to-peer traffic online, dominated by copyrighted materials, is overwhelming. That clearly should not be an acceptable, continuing status." Yes, because as long as the threats to your obsolete business model are "overwhelming," no one else's rights matter in the slightest. It's similar to Doug Morris
at sister company Universal Music. Basically: "we're too clueless to recognize that the market has changed and that we need to adjust our business models -- so instead, we will demand that everyone else change in an attempt to keep the world the way it was a decade ago." Back here in the real world, those strategies tend not to work, though they can cause plenty of damage in the short term.
About the only good news concerning all of this is that when asked to join them, Apple told AT&T and NBC Universal to get stuffed
. Microsoft, on the other hand, joined right up to help. What we're witnessing is a collaboration among companies too short-sighted to recognize how the market is changing, who will team up to pretend to bolster each other's outdated business model. Hopefully, if Congress and the FCC don't make it impossible, the rest of the world will simply route around them and build the new business models for tomorrow. Still, with the FCC potentially cracking down on Comcast's efforts
at traffic shaping, it'll be fascinating to see how the FCC responds to AT&T being even more proactive in blocking content. Given Kevin Martin's earlier statements
about ignoring AT&T net neutrality promises combined with his close relationship
with the telcos, somehow we get the feeling they won't face very much pressure.