The self-appointed Net Neutrality-niks complaining to the FCC about the bandwidth restrictions Comcast places on BitTorrent have put themselves in an ironic position: They are arguing that laws are needed to protect the use of an application that is primarily used to break the law.
Yes, yes, yes, I know. BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer applications have "legitimate" purposes besides just snagging gigabytes of pirated music and movies. Like… downloading a copy of the Bible, of course. Or [slap forehead!] how could I forget, obtaining the latest version of the Linux operating system?
But even if the only thing traversing BitTorrent was stuff in the public domain, there would still be something amiss with the logic at work here.
Consumer "watchdogs" assert that individuals should have unfettered freedom to spew out (and suck in) whatever they want over the private networks of Internet service providers. Apparently, according to this school of thought, such inalienable Internet rights trump those of a service provider like Comcast to manage its own resources ("meddling," to use the Associated Press’ term) in ways that are in the best interests of all of its customers.
In general, nobody wants Comcast or Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon or any other provider to block access to a particular Web site or application. Although you might expect market forces would be enough to keep ISPs in check: You’re blocking Playboy.com or MySpace or Joost or whatever? See ya.
The slippery slope for Net Neutrality fans is: What about, say, the rights of spammers? Should ISPs be allowed to throttle back their torrents of e-mails? Some have argued, after all, that spam is free speech. Or, since we’re talking about traffic, let me put it this way: Should dudes driving Hummers get to hog the the entire highway just because they can?
I’m not suggesting that using BitTorrent is the Internet equivalent of shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater. But the notion that Internet service providers should be barred from treating different kinds of applications in different ways is, fundamentally, a preposterous position.