The Boy Who Cried “Spam”

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I have a nifty little service I buy from my telephone provider called "teleblock." It blocks calls originiating from certain types of phone calls unless I affirmatively allow them. Thanks to this nifty service, I am once again able to sleep late on Sundays.

I bring this up because if there is a common carriage service left in the telecom world, it's plain old telephone service (POTS). My POTS landline is absolutely regulated as a "Title II" common carrier telephone service. But despite being a common carrier Title II telecom service, my POTS provider can offer me a very useful tool for limiting annoying calls.

This is why we should look with a rather skeptical eye at the claims of cable cos and telcos that granting our various complaints and petitions at the FCC (both the Comcast p2p blocking and the wireless text messaging/short code petitions) that granting our Petitions will result in a flood of pornographic spam, offering our underage children the chance to enlarge various body parts that they shouldn't even think about until well after puberty. This deluge of spam, child pornography, etc. on helpless users will result, network providers tell us, because the noble and brave network providers will be powerless -- POWERLESS we tell you -- to provide any kind of blocking or filtering software.

But somehow, despite being subject to full Title II common carrier regulation, my POTS provider manages to give me what amounts to an effective spam filter. Indeed, I have found it far more effective than anything the carriers offer me for spam in their current unregulated state. How is this possible?

The answer is that the claim that net neutrality would somehow prevent providers from offering filtering services to users -- whether to block spam or protect children -- is bunk. I cannot say it any clearer. As demonstrated by the ability of my common carrier Title II POTS provider to offer me "teleblock" service, the repeated assertions by carriers that even mild rules against certain kinds of discrimination would open the sluice gates of spam are untrue. This argument is nothing more than a bogeyman conceived by carriers to frighten and delude the ignorant and gullible -- a description that sadly applies to some ungodly number of decisionmakers.

What net neutrality would do, however, and the critical difference between services like teleblock offered by my common carrier POTS provider and the services that Comcast, AT&T and other broadband providers wish to offer, ir prevent carriers from picking and choosing what gets to users regardless of the user's express choices. My common carrier can offer me teleblock and even ask me to pay for it. But it can't block 800 numbers randomly on a theory that this would somehow reduce demand on the system. If I elect to use the service, my common carrier POTS provider tells me the rules for the service and obeys these rules. It does not cut side deals with telemarkerters to overide my preferences. It is a common carrier. It can offer any service, including filtering services, as long as it cedes control of the filter to me and does not try to monetize the incoming traffic at my expense.

THAT is what the broadband carriers find so intolerable. It's not about the ability to offer spam filters or protection for minor children. It's about keeping that trump card in hand that lets the carrier have ultimate control. It's about the little fine print on page 15 of your user agreement that lets the carrier change the terms of service so that the filter you opted into no longer works the way they advertised it, because the broadband carrier now has a special partnership with certain providers. It's not about blocking spam or access to indecent content. It's about control. Specifically, it is about the carrier controlling the user, rather than the user controlling the service offered by the carrier.

Everyone is familiar with the tale of the "the boy who cried 'wolf'." It is about time people wised up to the tale of the carriers who cry "spam." If the most regulated entity in the telecommunications world, my common carrier Title II wireline POTS provider can offer me the equivalent of a spam filter, so can a broadband provider operating under the modest non-discriminatory rules of network neutrality. Hopefully, regulators will grow up and stop believing the fairy tales from the carriers that cry "spam."

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