FCC chief claims power over network management
Vows rescue of coders and consumers
Left Coast Comcast Hearing US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin wants everyone to know his agency has all the power it needs to regulate the likes of Comcast.
"The commission will be vigilant in monitoring the broadband marketplace and protecting consumers' access to the internet content of their choice," Martin said this afternoon on the campus of Stanford University, where the FCC held another public hearing on broadband network management practices. "The commission's existing authority and its existing net neutrality principles give it the necessary tools to continue to do so."
In August 2005, the FCC laid down a policy statement (PDF) meant to encourage an open internet, and Martin is adamant that the US Telecommunications Act and the Supreme Court's 2005 "Brand X" decision give the commission free rein to enforce the statement's principles. "It is critically important for the commission to take seriously anyone who files a complaint that accuses broadband providers of violating these principles," the chairman said.
This, of course, is a veiled reference to a complaint recently filed against Comcast, the second largest internet service provider in the country. Back in May, tests from an independent researcher showed that Comcast was preventing users from uploading BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer files, and after these tests were verified by The Associated Press, members of the SaveTheInternet.com Coalition asked the FCC to investigate.
So the commission is investigating. In February, Martin and his crew held an east coast public hearing on the campus of Harvard University to discuss the network management practices of Comcast and other ISPs, and today, it staged the West Coast equivalent at Stanford.
Judging from Martin statements this afternoon - which echo statements he's made in the past - he intends to take action. Of some sort. Part of the problem, Martin seems to be saying, is that Comcast wasn't exactly open about its practices. When first accused of throttling peer-to-peer traffic, the company flatly denied it.
"A network operator must provide adequate disclosure of its network management practices," said Martin, one of the three Republican FCC commissioners. "Operators must disclose the particular network management tools they use - not only to consumers but also to the designers of various applications.
"Application designers must understand what will and what will not work on the network, and consumers must be adequately informed of the exact nature of the service they are purchase."
It should be said that Comcast is still less than open about its practices. But more on that later.
The other Republican commissioners - Deborah Tate and Roger McDowell - played down the possibility of regulation with their speeches during the hearing. But they were counterbalanced by the two Democrats: Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps.
Copps wants "forceful" action. And he wants it sooner rather than later.
"I hope there will be more hearings like this across the country because so much in terms of economic growth and individual opportunity hinges on protecting the integrity and the openness of the internet," he said. "That wonderful open and dynamic internet, perhaps the most expansive and liberating technology since the printing press, is in fact under threat. We will keep it open - keep it free - only if we act forceful to make that happen."
He's advocating an update to the commission's internet policy statement that would specifically prohibit Comcast and other ISPs from discriminating against certain types of traffic.
"Now is the time to add an enforceable principle of non-discrimination to our internet policy statement - a clear strong declaration that we will not tolerate unreasonable discrimination by network operators and we have in place important polices to make sure that anyone with other ideas isn't going to get away with it. And by the way, this should apply to wireless as well as to wireline operators."
Cue cheers from a very pro-net-neutrality Silicon Valley crowd.
Comcast did not attend the hearing - though Martin made it clear the company was invited weeks ago. The big-name ISP is busy telling the world it can regulate itself. ®