This week, the FCC announced a contest to create new software tools that will give consumers more information about their Internet access services. "These software tools could, for example, detect whether a broadband provider is interfering with DNS responses, application packet headers, or content," the FCC said. Winners will be invited to Washington and their work appear on the FCC's site.
As with online privacy, the vast majority of consumers likely have no idea what Web companies do beneath the hood. Some consumers might suspect that their Web connections temporarily slow down at various times, but it seems unlikely that most people know whether that's due to server problems, network congestion or deliberate traffic-shaping by Internet service providers.
Just as tools like Ghostery make it possible for people to discover when they're being tracked, there's no reason why other apps can't enable users to learn when their ISPs are tinkering with the flow of traffic.
What's more, even without new laws, tools that provide consumers with information promote accountability -- and, in some cases, spark lawsuits that can result in changes to business practices.
Consider the Comcast-BitTorrent situation. The FCC sanctioned Comcast for throttling visits to BitTorrent, but an appellate court overturned that order; the court ruled that the FCC lacked jurisdiction to enforce neutrality rules. But, separately, consumers brought a class-action lawsuit against Comcast for allegedly violating its contract with users by preventing them from using peer-to-peer applications. That case eventually settled with Comcast agreeing to pay $16 million.