The FCC ruling [PDF] announced over the weekend opens up an interesting debate over the evolution of Web access going forward.
Following complaints from Free Press and Public Knowledge made last October, the FCC investigated the charge that Comcast interfered with "Internet users' right to access the lawful Internet content and to use the applications of their choice," according to the FCC statement released with the ruling.
Basically, after investigating the complaints, the FCC was satisfied that Comcast was blocking and/or slowing down access to peer-to-peer connections and the applications that were used to facilitate them. In particular, the broadband provider was discriminating against BitTorrent, a Web-based file-sharing application that allows users to share video and music files.
Network management vs. censorship
Those who disagree with the ruling [PDF] say that Comcast was only trying to manage its network. BitTorrent users were using up an inordinate amount of bandwidth, the argument goes, and it was the company's right to regulate or manage that in order to be fair to all of its customers.
On the other side are those who say that "managing" Web traffic in this manner is tantamount to censorship. What right has a network provider to target certain applications and its users, asked FCC Chairman Kevin Martin?
Martin said in a personal statement [PDF] following the ruling, "would you be OK with the post office opening your mail, deciding they didn't want to bother delivering it, and hiding that fact by sending it back to you stamped 'address unknown -- return to sender'?"
Further on in his statement, Martin also compares Comcast's actions to the post office claiming its delivery truck was full so it needed to open the mail to determine how important it was before delivering it.
Certainly Comcast will appeal the ruling. But regardless of the outcome of that appeal, network providers such as Comcast will likely turn to one of two models to manage their networks: metered access or QoS (quality of service).
Network providers' next steps
Metered access would give network providers the capability to charge more if you use more. But there are caveats to this approach to "managing" Net traffic.