|WarXchild Says |
From its inception, the Internet has thrived on openness and competition. It?s those forces that have allowed it to develop into a hotbed of innovation and emerge as the most powerful communications and commerce medium the world has ever known.
Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear, back to back, two cases whose outcomes will determine whether the Internet continues on this path or veers in a very different direction.
One case, known as FCC vs. Brand X Internet Services, will establish the rules that govern access to the pipes -- cable and telephone lines -- that are the conduit for Internet traffic. The other, known as MGM Studios vs. Grokster, will determine not only the fate of the peer-to-peer networks, which are at the heart of the case, but also the freedom to innovate in burgeoning areas such as digital music and video.
Rulings are not expected until summer, but the hearings Tuesday should give some indication of what?s in store for the future of the Internet.
FCC V. BRAND X INTERNET SERVICES
Once upon a time, people used phone lines to talk and cable TVs offered more channels than sets with antennas. No more.
As new technologies emerged, the telecommunications laws that had been written for that world were gerrymandered time and again to fit a very different world.
The results aren?t pretty. Nowadays, in legal terms, a phone line is something you use to chat with anyone. Or, using a modem, you can connect to any Internet service provider you choose. A cable line is different. If you use one to connect to the Internet, the cable company decides which ISP you can use. To make things more complicated, a DSL line, which is physically indistinguishable from a phone line, falls somewhere in between. And an Internet phone, which typically rides either on a cable or DSL line . . . well, no one knows what it is, but everyone agrees it?s not a phone.
The Supreme Court is about to begin untangling this mess. It will decide whether a cable line should be treated like a phone line for the purposes of accessing the Internet. How it rules will be critical to whether the Internet remains open and competitive, or whether it will be controlled by a handful of players with the power to limit the sites and services that Internet users can access.
The case arose when Brand X Internet Services, a tiny ISP based in Santa Monica, challenged a Federal Communications Commission regulation that allows cable companies to exclude rival ISPs from its lines. Brand X argued that the FCC disregarded the will of Congress, which sought to promote competition on the Internet when it wrote the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The cable industry says the FCC regulation is just right. It argues that if it is forced to open its lines to rival ISPs, it will not have an incentive to invest in new broadband technology. The Bush administration and much of the tech industry agree.
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