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Battle lines drawn at network neutrality forum

Fri, 04/18/2008 - 8:35am
Brian Santo

No service providers appeared at the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) second forum on network neutrality, held at Stanford University. Each FCC commissioner used the opportunity to place the issue within familiar ideological frames.

Two of the three Republican commissioners – Deborah Tate and Robert McDowell – reliably took an anti-regulatory tack. Democratic commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps advocated for the adoption of clearer and stricter network neutrality policy.

Several months ago, companies such as Comcast and Verizon had aroused public ire for actions perceived to be violations of privacy and network neutrality issues. The immediate responses from the FCC commissioners were generally censorious, but yesterday they maintained a more even tone, all acknowledging that service providers have a legitimate need to manage their networks.

Censure was the order of the day, however. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, long one of the strongest voices for network neutrality, lectured the commissioners on the FCC’s historic failures with regard to network neutrality. He generally buttressed the Copps/Adelstein view in his remarks.

“We are facing these problems because of a failure of FCC policy,” Lessig said. "The FCC failed to make it clear to the network owners that if they are building the Internet, they need to build it neutrally.”

Lessig’s lecture was followed by testimony from several consumers claiming harm from network neutrality violations.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has been consistently in agreement with the notion that network management is necessary, and – though perceived as no friend of cable – he has staked out a position that appears to be somewhere in the center.

"There must be adequate disclosures of the particular traffic management tools," Martin said. "Consumers must be fully informed of the exact nature of the service they are purchasing."

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Broadband Briefs for 4/18/08

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