FCC Holds Hearing in Cambridge on Net Neutrality

FCC Holds Hearing in Cambridge on Net Neutrality

  • Posted on: 25 February 2008
  • By: Susan

Today I went to a hearing of the Federal Communications Commission, hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. The hearing was on the issue of intent neutrality – specifically about whether and how internet service providers are discriminating in how they provide bandwidth to certain subscribers. What follows are my notes – I am not a fast typist and I was sitting on the floor without a good view of the panelists or the commissioners – and should not be considered unbiased or even extremely factual reportage! Watch for video coming soon, shot by CCTV folks Harlo Holmes, Ann Cowan, Matt Landry and Julie Adler.

US Representative Edward Markey, chair of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, opened the hearing, saying that the US is “no country for old bandwidth,” as opposed to “there will be blood,” a reference to last night’s Oscar awards. Broadband policy, as promulgated by the FCC and Congress, should be aimed at jumpstarting competition to alleviate issues of speed and affordability. Charging extra for or blocking free speech should not transform the internet from bit torrent into bit trickle. Carriers may try to change policy to manage networks in order to further deploy broadband– but internet freedoms and the “wonderfully chaotic ever-evolving nature” of the internet should be maintained for any lawful purpose.

Markey was referring to the FCC’s Internet Policy Statement , adopted in 2005 and summarized by FCC Chair Kevin Martin in his opening statement:
To ensure that broadband networks are widely deployed, open, affordable, and accessible to all consumers, the Commission adopts the following principles:
• To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
• To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
• To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
• To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

At question in this hearing is “What are reasonable network practices?” They should be open and transparent in how the service works and how it is priced.

Some consumers claim that internet service providers are NOT being transparent and are blocking or degrading access to certain services.

Commissioner Michael Copps suggested that hearings such as this should be standard operating procedure outside of the beltway. He asserted that network operators are making choices RIGHT NOW about how we will communicate now and in the future. Some of their decisions may be right and some may be wrong. These choices are being made in a black box hidden away from the American people. This process doesn’t cut it for consumers, innovators and entrepreneurs. He insisted that this is not a theoretical.

In 2007, pro choice text message were withheld by Verizon to its customers (see Verizon testimony below), a web performer was bleeped because of criticism of the President’s Iraq policy, and peer to peer file sharing programs are being blocked.

Internet policies need to be set, and how they are set is a BIG deal. Unreasonable discrimination (versus reasonable network management) should not be allowed – network operators cannot be allowed to shackle the freedom of the internet. The FCC needs to begin to adjudicate these cases of network management, to create a body of law and policy that will set clear standards.

Reasonable network management should not be based upon absolute control or maximizing profits.

Jonathan Adelstein suggested that today’s video testimony be sent out via bit torrent and see how that works out.

Americans cherish the freedoms of the internet and free flow of information, just like the revolutionaries cherished freedom of the press, speech and religion.
Now is the time to establish an Internet Consumer’s Bill of Rights just like the original Bill of Rights with an unalienable right to liberty on the internet: nobody is in charge and everybody is in charge.

How do we preserve the free nature of the internet - through neutral networks and neutral routing. Consumers don’t want the internet to be dominated by a handful of corporate giants.

Commissioner Robert Mc Dowell feels that the new media economy is working through growing pain.s Online video is the alternative to old media. Youtube used more bandwidth in 2007 than the whole internet did in 2000. Dialup used to suffice, the cable modem and dsl works for now, and there will be a new transition for more bandwidth in the future. Competitive markets are more able to satisfy consumer demand than government policy can. Broadband providers must have the incentives to raise the capital to build better networks, and will need to be able to pay investors back.

Following the commissioners’ remarks, a petitioner from an open entertainment web site called Vuze testified – Vuze is a video provider of licensed content that claims that Comcast is throttling or slowing down peer to peer applications – particularly those in competition with the services that Comcast provides. Vuze is asking the FCC to define network management vs interference.

There was then a panel discussion, which was actually 5 minute testimonies:
Marvin Ammori, General Council of Free Press spoke about
Comcast’s interference with peer to peer technologies that pose a threat to Comcast’s video on demand and even cable services. Free Press insists that this is a violation of the FCC’s internet policy statement. According to Free Press, Comcast argues that, on the basis of reasonable network management, they are allowed to block (their competitors’) bandwidth. Amari also suggested that the lobbyists for the corporate giants are getting to the lawmakers, so this type of forum is critical.

Yochai Benkler, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, said that media has changed so that consumers are now users, the audience is now participants; “the internet is about people connecting to each other to chat about the silly and the profound….to tell each other stories….”

Robust competition on networks that are open is necessary to developing bandwidth capacity. Unbundling and open access were the heart of the 1996 telecommunications Act – we have turned away from that and we need to turn back.

Daniel Bosley, MA State Representative, Chair of Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, suggested that we need a national bandwidth plan.

David Cohen from Comcast said that Comcast is committed to giving all customers a superior internet experience. More speed and more value to more Americans. Comcast provides broadband access to 60 million homes. Comcast receives no subsidies – all the risk is taken by investors in the network.

To maximize the consumer experience, the network is managed – it has to be to function. Customers want network congestion to be managed, spam eliminated, etc. The demand on the network is so great – there is one tool that DOES manage peer to peer use – the effect is minimal on just a few customers. Comcast does not block sites or applications. It uses the least intrusive method to keep the most customers happy. Comcast’s acceptable use policy and network management is available to all.

Tom Tauke, from Verizon spoke about short code - used by advertisers to connect with mobile phone users – Verizon HAS limited those that charge exorbitant fees. As mentioned before, NARAL was denied a short code – it was a mistake by Verizon and it was remedied; no political short code seekers are denied short codes now.

Timothy Wu, Professor of Law, Columbia Law School, insisted that network management should not include blocking lawful applications. Filtering technologies embed censoring capability. Since the cold war, the USA advertises itself as the model of an open and free press, communications systems, and internet. We must maintain ourselves as the model that we are trying to send to the rest of the world.

Christopher S. Yoo, Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, detailed the uncertainty surrounding internet growth and development. How much is traffic really growing? Time and place of use is important when considering network congestion. Upload bandwidth is not important in the case of YouTube, but it is in peer to peer applications, like bit torrent. There can be responsible non-discriminatory network management.


Thanks for the post!

As someone who really wanted to attend the hearing today but could not, I really appreciate being able to read your notes.

I should have mentioned that this is just the first two hours - since I was sitting on the floor, I couldn't take much more! We'll see what others have to say.

I was so glad to be part of today's event. Thank you so much for allowing me to help!

I posted my reflections to my blog, but they lean more towards editorial (read: opinionated) than objective... Thanks again!

Harlo, thanks for the more opinioniated coverage and for the video - and thanks so much for shooting and posting video, too. I didn't mention in my blog article that it seemed like there were more insudtry wonks in the audience than "our people" (as witnessed by the greater applause for them)- I was surprised by that...but I thought that, for the most part, the FCC commissioners were "talking the talk.." we'll see!

Interviews with picketers outside coming soon! (Right now our tape is being held captive by the folks at Free Press.)

Somerville Community Access TV passed along a nice video shot at the hearing on their staff vlog- scatstaffvlog.blogspot.com