Combatants in Net Neutrality Fight Take Aim at Each Other, FCC Chief and Comcast

Net Neutrality July 31st, 2008

, Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com

By Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com; and Cassandre Durocher, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, July 31 – Combatants on the subject of Net Neutrality debate took aim at each other on Thursday, with House Minority Leader John Boehner blasting FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in advance of a Federal Communications Commission meeting on Friday.

“Recent media reports indicate the FCC is poised for massive, unprecedented regulation of the Internet,” wrote Boehner, an Ohio Republican. “This dangerous path would limit freedom, stifle innovation and entrepreneurship, and kill American jobs.”

For about a week, press reports have indicated that Martin had secured the support of the commission’s two Democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, to punish Comcast over its network management practices.

The cable company delayed and effectively blocked access to the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing program, and the company has been grilled at a variety of FCC forums.

The non-profit groups Free Press and Public Knowledge filed a complaint against Comcast after investigations by the Associated Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation uncovered the blockage in the fall of 2007.

Boehner called attention to Monday’s Washington Post op-ed piece by Republican FCC Commisioner Robert McDowell. In the piece, McDowell urged the commission – which will formally vote on the matter at the Friday open meeting – not to “choose regulation over collaboration.”

To do so, McDowell argued, “we [would] be setting a precedent by thrusting politicians and bureaucrats into engineering decision.” He said that the Internet’s self-regulatory mechanisms have proven capable of resolving network congestion issues in the past.

In the Post piece, McDowell also noted that “the Internet is the ultimate ‘wiki’ environment – one that we all share, build, pay for and shape.”

Net Neutrality is increasingly becoming a political flash-point, with Democrats generally favoring Net Neutrality regulations, and Republicans generally opposing it.

Industry-specific favoritism also factors into the debate. McDowell, for example, has been favorably disposed toward the cable industry during his tenure as a commissioner since 2006. Martin, by contrast, has driven the cable industry batty by taking more than a dozen actions to which cable operators object.

In a statement reacting to Boehner’s comments, Public Knowedge President Gigi Sohn said: “It is a shame that the harm Comcast has done to the Internet has not been appreciated by Leader Boehner. Rather than criticizing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Leader Boehner should praise him for putting a stop to a practice that technical experts have said is clearly outside the bounds of accepted Internet practice, while at the same time the FCC is acting to protect consumers.”

Sohn also said that any action against Comcast would “in no way deter broadband investment, as the financial results of AT&T, which is operating under a Net Neutrality merger condition, have shown.”

Martin was also excoriated over Net Neutrality by the Wall Street Journal editorial board on Wednesday. In an editorial entitled “FCC.politics.gov,” the newspaper said that Martin “wants to make an example of Comcast in order to advance a ‘network neutrality’ industrial policy being pushed by high-tech rivals like Google and pro-regulation advocacy groups like MoveOn.org, Consumers Union and Free Press.”

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