Reasonable Network Management

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) finds questionable cause for concern in the FCC’s draft rules on so-called “net neutrality” …

The EFF is concerned about a particular pair of clauses in the current draft rules (PDF) for network neutrality. Those clauses impose no obligation on ISPs to permit “the transfer of unlawful content” or the “unlawful transfer of content.” In other words, ISPs don’t have to be “neutral” about illegal content, and those trafficking in it can’t complain to the FCC is their content is slowed, blocked, throttled, folded, spindled, or mutilated.

If there was any doubt about this, another section of the draft rules make it clear: “Furthermore, we have no intention of protecting unlawful activities in these rules.”

Fred von Lohmann, an EFF copyright lawyer, sees danger here. “That means that so long as your ISP claims that it’s trying to prevent copyright infringement, it’s exempted from the net neutrality principles and can interfere with your ability to access lawful content, use lawful devices, run lawful applications, or access lawful services,” he said last week.

Here’s how the same basic argument was stated at the EFF’s “Deeplinks” blog …

… now that the FCC has formally issued draft net neutrality regulations, they have a huge copyright loophole in them — a loophole that would theoretically permit Comcast to block BitTorrent just like it did in 2007 — simply by claiming that it was “reasonable network management” intended to “prevent the unlawful transfer of content.”

If you’re confused after reading those passages, join the crowd. EFF’s leap from unlawful to lawful content — and its seeming opposition to “reasonable network management” practices — is, in a word, baffling.

Michael Willner responds

Apparently even the ability for ISPs to reasonably manage their network — based on a clause in the draft rules — doesn’t go far enough in the view of the … EFF.

Unfortunately if groups like the [EFF] got their way with network neutrality regulations, freedom would be the last thing that many ISP users would experience.

Reasonable network management serves the purpose of allowing all users to have fair access to the network resources. Without it, a small minority of users would dominate the use of shared resources, degrading the Internet experience of nearly all network users.


  1. Sa, says

    So…you’re saying that it’s odd that EFF wants to keep bittorrent blocks illegal. Michael Willner should read more about EFF. Saying that it’s a leap from lawful to unlawful content is inaccurate. BitTorrent is a protocol, just like HTTP, FTP, and IRC.

    If you were to look into what IRC traffic is, on a basis of lawful and unlawful, you would find that most of it is hacking, piracy, or other illegal activity. Similarly, the vast majority of BitTorrent traffic is piracy. But is anyone talking about killing IRC because it would stop hackers in their tracks? No, because big companies like Canocial, Red Hat, and others rely on it to provide end-user support. No companies are 100% behind BitTorrent, but millions of internet users use it for legal purposes.

    EFF’s network management argument is also inaccurately portrayed. What they are saying is that this regulation is so unspecific that an ISP could use network management as an excuse to do anything. This includes blocking iTunes TV downloads, hulu streaming, and Livestation’s p2p streaming network to keep people on cable, all in the name of keeping “a minority of users from hogging bandwidth”.

    And I’m sorry if I max out my 1 mbps that I pay good money for a few times a day, but I fail to see how that could have an adverse effect on your “advanced fiber network” unless I had unlimited bandwidth.

  2. Scott Morizot says

    Although I haven’t read EFF’s statement in full, I believe I understand their point. The BitTorrent example is a good one. I happen to be enough of a techie to remember the original purpose behind bittorrent development and a use for which it is still widely used, namely legally exchanging large binary files such as the ISOs for linux distributions. As with every technology, from gopher, to ftp, to usenet, etc. ad infinitum, people have found ways to use it for illegal purposes. However, the fact that it can be abused does not in any way negate the usefulness of the protocol for legal purposes.

    Here’s where the exact language and shape of the regulations matter. If they are written so broadly that an entire protocol can be blocked because some people abuse it, then the entire basis of network neutrality is undermined. The clauses need to be written narrowly enough that they allow ISPs to target illegal activities (where such can be identified) without impacting legal uses or there is little more “neutrality” than we have today.

    I will note that I’ve been a Suddenlink customer (and customer of the two preceding cable companies) in my area for Internet since almost the moment broadband was offered at my house. And I’ve been generally pleased with the service and have noticed that you tend to be a better ISP than some of the more evil ones my friends have had to deal with. So I’m not sure that you’ve ever acted in the sort of way (taking advantage of loopholes and treating your customers poorly) that EFF is concerned about. But I’ve had a lot of friends who have to deal with other companies that will remain unnamed. And they’ve had a host of problems.

    So I understand EFF’s concern and desire to limit broad loopholes. As long as y’all don’t turn to the dark side, I expect to be your customer for years to come.