FCC weighing Comcast’s view in net neutrality spat
Service providers should not be able to block Internet traffic, most speakers agreed at a public forum convened by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Massachusetts. But FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the crux of the matter was whether anyone has been illegitimately blocking traffic.
The event prompting the meeting was the discovery last year that Comcast occasionally cuts off some peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic in the course of network management.
According to Martin: “The question is: What are reasonable network practices? Networks may have legitimate network management practices. Obviously network operators can take reasonable steps to manage traffic, but they cannot arbitrarily block access.” The comment was from the text of Martin’s opening statement.
“Consumers have alleged that operators are blocking or degrading consumers' access to the Internet by distinguishing between certain peer to peer applications,” Martin continued. “Consumers have alleged that these operator practices have not been transparent.”
With that statement, Martin may have signaled a willingness to entertain Comcast’s rationale that its actions were in keeping with legitimate network management practices, but by raising the issue of a lack of transparency, also hinted that even if Comcast were justified in its actions, the company might not be entirely off the hook.
At Monday's hearing, Comcast EVP David L. Cohen reiterated that Comcast only interrupts file-sharing sessions when P2P traffic is so heavy it would compromise other services.
"We have chosen the least-intrusive method to help the vast majority of our customers avoid service degradation," Cohen said.
Timothy Wu, a Columbia University law professor, explained that the issue of disclosure of network practices is crucial for Internet firms that must rely on venture capital funding for survival. If investors learn that major broadband providers will delay or block a particular firm's Internet transmissions, they'll take their money elsewhere, he said.
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