The network neutrality crowd is taking a page from the climate change club. In the same way environmentalists say just about every social, economic and natural problem is attributable to global warming, it’s getting so that anytime an Internet-based application hits a glitch, the activists say the root cause is lack of network neutrality regulation. The latest accusations have been directed at T-Mobile, whose users had trouble connecting to the Twitter SMS application this weekend. The problem was a technical glitch, which Twitter (which does not believe it was blocked on purpose) is working to repair. But that didn’t stop accusations from flying. The Twitter jitter continues a pattern where network neutrality advocates cry “net neutrality” wolf at every relatively minute and isolated applications interruption. A few months ago, over the course of a few days, Cox users couldn’t reach Craigslist.com. After charging Cox with a neutrality violation, they quieted down when the problem was traced to a flaw in a security software problem. Accusations that Comcast was blocking Google turned out to be a DNS glitch. Another claim that Comcast was blocking peer-to-peer sites turned out to be completely false — Comcast merely was slowing down isolated P2P uploads by reducing the number of simultaneous connections the user could have to the file-sharing site at peak times. This was routine traffic management. Then there was the kerfluffle over AT&T’s alleged “censorship” of lyrics critical of President George W. Bush during a wireless web transmission of Pearl Jam concert. Turned out a solitary employee of the company managing the webcast, not AT&T, had made a unilateral and unauthorized decision to delete the lyrics. With the classic fable in mind, observers are warning net neutrality activists to stop are endangering their own credibility. Here’s Mike Masnick at TechDirt.com with some common sense.
“Before we get accused of all sorts of incorrect things (as per usual when we post about network neutrality), let’s start off with a few clear points: I think that the concept of network neutrality is important for creating conditions that enhance innovation. However, I don’t think that means we should mandate network neutrality through legislation. I think what it means is that we should look for ways to increase competition in the connectivity space, as that would make network neutrality a non-issue. Anyone who violated network neutrality would pay for it in lost customers. Unfortunately, with many people having very few connectivity choices, companies can get away with things. However, these firms aren’t stupid. They’re not randomly blocking stuff just for the hell of it. And, yet, every time a minor technical problem pops up — such as T-Mobile having problems delivering SMS to Twitter, suddenly everyone makes it out to be a net neutrality violation. Unfortunately, it appears that the phrase “network neutrality” has now become a catch-all for any connectivity provider that has trouble delivering any particular service. While that generates headlines for advocates and politicians who want to keep “network neutrality” in the headlines, it actually does a great disservice to the actual concept of network neutrality. It changes the debate away from one that concerns the actual issues (competition and what is best for innovation) to one that involves lots of needless finger-pointing and blind accusations. So, next time there’s a problem on the network, before shouting “network neutrality,” at least wait until the details come out.”