Good News for Net Neutrality?

It can be pretty rare that the Federal Communications Commission does something good these days. So yesterday when Kevin Martin (the head of the FCC) said that he would recommend that Comcast, which is the nation’s largest cable company, be punished for violating agency principles that guarantee customers open access to the Internet, I was pretty surprised. Of its investigations, Martin said, “The commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers access to the Internet….We found that Comcast’s actions in this instance violated our principles.”

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised because I knew Free Press was on the case. In January of this year when they learned that Comcast was secretly blocking the Web sites and services of its competitors, Free Press and members of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition filed a complaint urging the FCC to stop Comcast's harmful blocking and sought fines to deter future violations. They flooded the FCC with hundreds of thousands of complaints and comments, and organized a series of public hearings on the issue.

What could this decision, which would be the first time that regulators have punished an Internet provider for violating open-access rules mean for network neutrality moving forward? Well, Vindu Goel of The New York Times called it an “imminent victory” for net-neutrality advocates here. But he also warns that the decision could actually end up hurting Internet users if it spurs moves by the cable industry giants to charge customers based on how much data they are using instead of offering unlimited data for a flat fee.

Although I’m breathing a sigh of momentary relief, I’m still keeping my eyes on the cable industry because I know they aren’t going to take this lying down. We’ll have to wait and see.