Tagged: broadband

Comcast Might Have Blocked an Encrypted Email Service, but Not Knowing Whether It Did or Not is Why We Need Net Neutrality

On March 1, 2018, Comcast customers could not reach the Germany-based encrypted email service, Tutanota, using their Comcast broadband connections. According to Zack Whittaker, writing for Zero Day at ZDNet

Starting in the afternoon on March 1, people weren’t sure if the site was offline or if it had been attacked. Reddit threads speculated about the outage. Some said that Comcast was actively blocking the site, while others dismissed the claims altogether. Several tweets alerted the Hanover, Germany-based encrypted messaging provider to the alleged blockade, which showed a “connection timed out” message to Comcast users.

It was as if to hundreds of Comcast customers, Tutanota didn’t exist.

But as soon as users switched to another non-Comcast internet connection, the site appeared as normal

The outage is activating advocates for net neutrality because it seems like Comcast was blocking a website that it didn’t like. Or it could be a technical glitch between Comcast and Tutanota. This happened in 2015 when HBO launched HBO Now, the standalone service that does not require a multichannel video (“cable-TV”) subscription. (Comcast is the largest multichannel video provider and distributor in the United States.) The outage prompted an outrage from Comcast customers who could not access HBO Now’s and accused Comcast of acting in bad faith. It turned out to be a technical glitch involving DNS.

That 2014 HBO Now incident and this recent Tutanota outage underscores the reasons why we need net neutrality. Without it, the Internet can’t operate as a bona fide communications network and can block whatever site they see unfit. In the United States, broadband Internet is monopolized by a small number of companies, and the broadband oligopoly creates distrust between consumers and Internet service providers. Net neutrality is not just good for the broadband customers but also the companies who run these networks.

You Have a Choice, But It’s Basically AOL or Nothing

Right after I published my previous post about Chairman Pai’s FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality rules governing internet service providers, the FCC released details about the proposal the Commission plans to bring to a vote in December.

It’s even worse that I had thought. It looks like Chairman Pai’s FCC is setting up to allow Internet Service Providers to decide what content and websites its customers can visit and which ones it cannot. For anyone following the fortunes of Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T over the last few years will note that these companies have each acquired or are in the process of acquiring content companies. Most recently, AT&T plans to absorb Time Warner, ostensibly for the content it can provide the broadband and wireless service provider. Verizon did something similar when it acquired AOL and Yahoo and rebranded them Oath.

We’ve been expecting the single, unlimited broadband package to go away someday—either through throttling your connection speed or by capping the amount of data you send and receive each month. What might happen now is there could be at least two tiers of broadband service:

  1. a discounted AOL-type service where you get unlimited access to the content on that service
  2. a prohibitively expensive rate for a somewhat open service, like what we have now

At any rate, Chairman Pai is basically giving the monopolistic Internet service providers the opportunity to become all-in-one information services. Remember most of America has no choice in Internet service providers and unlike in the past, when there was a national telephone monopoly and local cable TV monopoly, the government provided some level of protections against monopolistic behavior. Not anymore.

It really seems like the Internet will again be like AOL. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.