The SXSW Film Festival is screening a documentary about the open Internet and Net Neutrality called Barbershop Punk at the Austin Convention Center on March 15th and 18th. The title refers to Robb Topolski’s 2007 investigation of Comcast’s network management practices after having trouble sharing public domain barbershop quartet music files. Topolski discovered that the company was secretly throttling P2P applications, which he made public on a dslreports bulletin board. With this discovery, Net Neutrality exploded into the mainstream political discourse and Topolski became a reluctant public figure. The power of the network providers to become the gatekeepers to the Internet became frighteningly clear and Net Neutrality was no longer “a solution in search of a problem.” In response, the FCC forced Comcast to stop throttling P2P, which Comcast is appealing in federal court, and began the process of establishing concrete network management rules to prevent similar practices in the future (with some major loopholes).
From the preview, it looks like the film includes interviews with some of the most prominent actors in the Net Neutrality debate and questions the wisdom of the government’s policy of trusting the duopoly Internet access market to function without any oversight.
Matthew Henry is an EFFA board member and a partner at McCollough|Henry, PC
Google just announced that they plan on rolling out a 1Gbps fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) Internet access service in a number of trial locations. To give some perspective, a 1Gbps Internet access service would be over 65 times faster than Time Warner Cable’s fastest Road Runner tier available in Austin and over 165 times faster than AT&T’s fastest available DSL tier. According to the company’s policy blog, Google wants to build out the super high-speed fiber network for between 50,000 and 500,000 people and to operate it as an open access network, open to all competitors that want to offer FTTH service. Now, Google is trying to figure out where to build this network and is looking for city nominations.
Austin, as a tech hub and an Internet-savvy community, would be a fantastic test bed for this FTTH experiment. Austinites are highly connected and sophisticated Internet users and would perfect beta testers for super high-speed service. Also, with the city’s two major Internet Access Providers (AT&T and Time Warner Cable) experimenting with usage caps and metered service, the city may soon need just such an uncapped high-speed alternative service.