Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Net Discrimination in Disguise

There's a pervasive myth that there has been no Internet content discrimination by the large phone and cable companies. "That is simply untrue, " writes Matt Stoller of BlogPAC.

Stoller points to Cox Cable, which for three months has blocked their customers from accessing the online classifieds super-site, Craigslist. (Disclosure: Craig Newmark the company’s founder is a charter member of the coalition)

The cable giant has thus far dodged the discrimination bullet, claiming security software malfunctions, according to a report by Tom Foremski in the Silicon Valley Watcher:

. . . the problem of access had been going on since late February. It had something to do with the security software that Cox isusing from a company called Authentium. Cox has been collaborating with Authentium since April 2005 to develop the security software suite.

Back on February 23rd Authentium acknowledged that their software is blocking Craigslist but it still hasn't fixed the problem, more than three months later. That's a heck of long time to delete some text from their blacklist. And this company also supplies security software to other large ISPs.

Craigslist has approached Authentium several times to get it to stop blocking access by Cox internet users but it has been unresponsive. Jim [Buckmaster, the CEO of Craigslist] wasn't aware that Cox had its own classified ads service. "That changes things, " he said.

A similar occurrence flared up just two weeks ago when MySpace users across Florida and Tennessee claimed that BellSouth was blocking access to the community Web portal.

These are exactly the kinds of scenarios that many people engaged in the Net Neutrality debate are concerned about, Foremski writes. " [T]hat the cable companies and the telcos will make it difficult for their internet users to access competing services. "

According to Craigslist program reports, customers have been experiencing suspicious ISP blockages for some time.

But a report in today’s Wall Street Journal downplays these concerns, quoting Cox spokesman David Grabert: "We don't block or otherwise impede access to any legal Web site," Grabert told the Journal. "Unfortunately, a few customers who experienced this difficulty drew the wrong conclusions about what was happening."

If that’s the case, then, why has it taken Cox three months to fix a known problem involving a competitive business?

Without net neutrality protections, the cable and telecom duopoly will have no incentive to give customers the choices they expect online, Stoller writes. "Already, it's quite difficult to even know that this is happening because they are quite easy to disguise."

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