Glimmers of Hope for Network Neutrality

Although Congress may have just inadvertently given telecommunication companies a huge legal boost to engage in network management via the pretext of “terrorism-related” surveillance, it is a long shot from being a done deal. For starters, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has launched the first in what is expected to be a multi-lateral legal attack on the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act; the starting point is a claim that the law violates the separation of powers clause of the Constitution, in that Congress’ action unconstitutionally empowered the Executive branch while emasculating any judicial oversight or reprimand of abuses conducted under the permission of the legislature.

Should the entire FISA Amendments Act be declared unconstitutional – and not just the provision granting telecom companies retroactive immunity for spying on us without proper legal justification – the diminishment of network neutrality under the auspices of national security would be undermined, perhaps fatally. That would be a very good thing. EFF’s legal experts don’t expect action on their lawsuit to really begin to gain traction until later this year – right around (or shortly after) the November elections. The case itself won’t likely be resolved until sometime next year at the earliest. Read More

Congress Shreds Constitutional Privacy, But It’s Not Over Yet

Today the U.S. Senate voted to approve legislation that essentially legalizes the warrantless surveillance of the communications of U.S. citizens. We know such behavior’s been going on for more than two years, when a whistleblower stepped forward to disclose that AT&T had been working closely with the National Security Agency (NSA) – so much so that the NSA now has its own special rooms in AT&T communications backbone facilities. In these rooms are giant, electronic taps that essentially monitor, record, and allow for the analysis of every phone call, facsimile transmission, and all other electronic communications passing through AT&T’s network.

As the largest telecommunications provider in the United States, it is virtually impossible for any communications network traffic to travel from point A to point B without transiting some node in AT&T’s vast infrastructure. Which in effect means that for as long as this program has been going on, we’ve all been under Big Brother’s scrutiny to some degree. Read More

Comcastic Adventures: Spiking Your E-Mail

It should come as no surprise that my experience as a Comcast broadband subscriber is matching up with many others: extra-sh*tty. Comcast has been flogged extensively elsewhere about its draconian “bandwidth management” techniques – throttling some traffic, blocking others, and now testing new technologies in preparation for implementing this non-neutral network management practice nationwide. And Comcast is not alone in this trend.

My problem with Comcast, however, has had nothing to do with BitTorrent, Skype, Gnutella, or Lotus Notes. It has everything to do with the most important application for which I use the Internet – e-mail.

The problem began a couple of months ago, when those of us in Champaign-Urbana began to be assimilated into the larger Comcast network-borg. I expected an increase in intermittent service outages, but I did not expect my e-mail to stop coming in. But it did, and after two months of sleuthing with Comcast’s evasive and mostly-impotent technical support, I think I have figured out the problem. Read More

Broadband in America: Freedom of Choice?

About a year ago, I dumped my AT&T DSL connection in favor of our local cable broadband provider, Insight Communications. I did so because AT&T failed to follow through on one of its promises made when it bought BellSouth – that customers could receive discounted, DSL-only service (without the need to have phone service bundled in). Needless to say, I was very happy to leave the orbit of the Death Star, and even happier to have a locally-accessible alternative.

You can imagine my dismay when I read last spring that Comcast declared its intent to buy out Insight, and recently I received a letter in the mail informing me that I would officially become a Comcast customer in short order. Read More

The Merger of AT&T and BellSouth: Thanks for (Almost) Nothing

Right before the new year, without the benefit of a public meeting or vote, the FCC approved the corporate marriage of AT&T and BellSouth. With this $85 billion deal, Ma Bell is basically just two mergers away from being fully-reconstructed.

Harold Feld of the Media Access Project has already compiled an excellent summary of reaction to the deal, though his own perspective is much more optimistic than mine. I understand that AT&T’s commitment to the preservation of network neutrality is key concession made for the deal, but their 24-month pledge to the principle is six months shorter than the initial acquiescence it made when the FCC merger negotiation-debate began months earlier. Read More