WASHINGTON, January 19, 2010 - Communication and intellectual property experts debated whether a national broadband plan is the right vehicle for addressing copyright and network neutrality issues and whether the Federal Communications Commission is overstepping its bounds by dabbling with copyright issues.
Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn sparred with officials from the Recording Industry Association of America, telling RIAA’s executive vice president and general counsel that the recording and Hollywood industries along with some song writers want internet service providers to filter networks for copyright infringement.
She pressed Steven Marks, of RIAA, to come clean about his group’s wishes for ISPs to adopt a “three strikes and you’re out” policy, referring to the suggestion that ia consumer would be penalized if he violates a copyright more than three times.
“It’s a nasty technique,” she said to the audience and panel, moderated by BroadbandBreakfast.com Editor Drew Clark and The Hill’s Kim Hart.
Marks responded by saying his group was seeking fair treatment of consumers, but copyright holders needed some sort of recourse that would deter potential copyright violators from committing these crimes. He reiterated throughout the panel that the RIAA is “open to discussion” about the proposal and suggested three strikes as a starting point for negotiations, but is open to other figures as well.
“We’re not [the] parades of horribles that Gigi is talking about,” said Marks. “We’re talking about moving toward something that provides people education and in a manner” that offers warnings or notices more than one time.”
Fernando Laguarda, a vice president with Time Warner Cable, which spun off Time Warner last March, said his company is interested in copyright policy because “it’s important to customers” and “protecting the importance of copyrights is essential to the economy.”
Sohn said she doesn’t believe that copyright issues have a place in the national broadband plan and while Marks didn’t explicitly say he believes they do, he said the FCC objectives in broadband policy of innovation, investment and a good consumer experience are “goals that require contemplation…and consideration of copyrighted works.”
Matthew Henry, the Internet policy counsel for Data Foundry, a data management firm protecting clients’ data, expressed his concern that if copyright filtering becomes prevalent it would lead to the comprehensive monitoring of the Internet and Americans’ privacy rights could be lost.
“On the Internet you have traditional expectations of privacy in communications…like trade secrets or confidential communications with a spouse,” he said. “Privacy serves as a foundation for free speech” and freedom of religion.”
Laguarda said Time Warner Cable does not look at people’s private communications but the firm needs to know how the network is engaging users so that it can better make plans in expanding the network. He added that Time Warner Cable does not use deep package inspepction, which is a technology that drills deeply into a network’s contents, and doesn’t know how widespread that technology is used elsewhere.
Examining how customers use the network is important, he said, noting that the top quartile of his network’s customers, which are spread throughout 28 states, consume 100 times more broadband than the bottom quartile.
Moderator Hart pointed out that cable firm Comcast has rolled out a trial tool allowing consumers to see how much bandwidth they are using and they are kicked off the network if they exceed a certain amount of usage – about 250 megabits per second (Mbps) per month.
Laguarda said his company doesn’t have a similar plan in the works, but eight months ago the firm announced a trial of consumption-based billing which led to a public and broadband community outcry. The program was discontinued.
Sohn said monitoring usage could become a real problem: “ Imagine if you have Time Warner Cable having to look into every packet to see if it’s copyrighted material…It will slow down the network.”
Sohn said Public Knowledge doesn’t oppose usage-based pricing, but is concerned that if the usage cap is low enough, there’s discrimination against high usage and high bandwidth.
“The number [of mbps] should change as technology advances,” she added.