Advocates of “network neutrality” have trouble conveying the real world implications of an arcane-sounding technical issue. Two items in the news help illustrate why it’s an issue to fight about.

“Network neutrality” is the underlying principle of the Internet as we know it – generally, the idea that all bits of data are treated equally, unaffected by the various companies involved in carrying the traffic from one place or another. There is a long-term effort by communications companies to squeeze revenue from consumers and web providers by charging more for priority access to the available bandwidth – and the likelihood that other web sites and services will be slowed down or disabled if they don’t pay up. Here’s some background information about the “net neutrality” fight.

All the examples cited by net neutrality defenders have been theoretical until now, leaving cable/telco executives free to piously pretend they have no intention of doing anything that would interfere with their customers, all of whom are equally loved.

Comcast has now been caught deliberately and indiscriminately interfering with BitTorrent traffic. There had been prior evidence of Comcast’s blockage but this article presented widely publicized proof. It’s not a shakedown for money yet, but it’s easy to imagine that Comcast can introduce a new “torrent-friendly” subscription package – for just a little more money each month.

The entertainment industry would like you to believe that BitTorrent is only used to trade copyrighted material, but it is also a widely used legitimate tool for quickly disseminating legal content. Comcast has been blocking my BitTorrent traffic for a couple of months now. (Specifically: Comcast is running software that prevents outgoing traffic for completed torrents. Seeding a torrent after finishing a download is a crucial part of BitTorrent etiquette as well as a requirement for participating in some of the sites I visit for non-copyrighted music and concerts.)

But if you’re still not convinced that this might affect you, let’s try a metaphor that you’ll understand right away.

United Airlines Chief Executive Glenn Tilton is seeking to wring some extra money out of passengers, so he just floated the idea of making economy passengers pay an extra fee to get their luggage off the plane – or stand around waiting until the last of the luggage is unloaded if they don’t pay the fee . Here’s the interview.

You felt a chill when you read that, didn’t you? Yup, the principle of “baggage neutrality” is under attack. Well, your Internet experience can be shaped by exactly the same demonic forces, the same rich white men in suits who see you as an open wallet. Fight for laws protecting network neutrality!

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