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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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February 25, 2008 1:22 PM

FCC Internet hearing

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The Federal Communications Commission held a public hearing at Harvard University today. The commission heard from panelists about potential rules for Internet networks.

There was a live audio feed that for some reason I could not work until the end of the hearing. The FCC says the complete hearing will be posted within 24 to 48 hours. If anybody did tune in or was there, please send me something and I will post it on Daily Democracy.

The panel was made up of consumer advocacy groups, academics, and network providers. If you have read Daily Democracy you know that we here at The Seattle Times support net neutrality. Below is the prepared statement for the hearing from Marvin Ammori, general counsel for Free Press.

"This hearing is not just about technical details of managing networks. Its outcome will help determine the future of online television and the future of the Internet.

The facts are not even disputed. Comcast is deliberately targeting and interfering with legal peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent and others. These technologies are used to quickly share files of all kinds, such as open source software, NASA's satellite images, virtual games, or large academic datasets. Major Hollywood studios use BitTorrent companies to distribute high-resolution, full-length movies and shows.

As a result, BitTorrent companies like Vuze and Miro pose an emerging competitive threat to cable companies like Comcast; they threaten Comcast's video on demand service; Comcast's own online video services; and ultimately Comcast's cable television service. By targeting peer-to-peer, Comcast is disrupting investment and innovation in online competitors.

Last November, Free Press filed a complaint against Comcast and a petition for declaratory ruling. We filed with other consumer groups and with law professors from Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. More than 15,000 people filed their own complaints.

Our petition argues that the FCC 2005 Internet Policy Statement forbids Comcast's actions. That important statement guarantees consumers the right to access the content, applications or devices of their choice. Blocking or delaying BitTorrent is a clear violation of the right to access the content and applications of their choice. We ask the Commission to declare that networks cannot discriminate against particular applications.

Judging from Comcast's defense, and the other providers' filings in this proceeding, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Comcast argues that the Policy Statement's last footnote -- which refers to "reasonable network management" -- gives them a blank check to ignore the rest of the statement and to block their online competitors.

Comcast talks about "managing bandwidth&"; but that's just technical-sounding nonsense, as the engineers will tell you. Legally, this Commission already rejected the argument in its 700 MHz Order. Comcast has to use nondiscriminatory means to manage bandwidth.

The Commission's decision in this proceeding represents a defining moment in the Internet's history. And it will be precedent for one of two futures.

Behind Door No. 1 is an open Internet, where you can find or offer any content, buy or sell anything, run or share any software, attach any device to any network, and do it with competition and choice. When more people contribute to an open Internet, the richer we all become. This is also the door to the; thousand channel universe; for online TV. This open future is set forth in the FCC's Internet Policy Statement. It's the future that would be guaranteed by Rep. Markey's Internet Freedom Preservation Act.

Our global competitors are already through this door and well down the road. Their networks are 20 times faster than our networks, 100 times faster on upload, for a fraction of the price. We can see this future, right now; it's just not in America.

But behind Door No. 2 is a closed Internet. Your Internet provider will pick your Web sites for you. Online companies and device makers would need a permission slip to innovate. Providers will be able to profit from artificial scarcity.

If we choose Door No. 2, we'll fall further behind our global competitors and economic growth will be sacrificed.

Our democracy will also be hurt. People use the Internet to speak out to protect civil rights, to serve children, and to spread the word about their religions. Why should they be forced to use only e-mails and blogs, rather than BitTorrent and Miro?

You might wonder, how can there even be a debate in Washington between these two possible futures? Well, the reason is that, inside Washington, Door No. 2 is being pushed open by companies who spend tens of millions every year influencing government officials at all levels. These are the companies that use technical-sounding nonsense to disguise their anti-competitive motives.

So we'd like to thank the Commission for this hearing. Because the public should know about this issue. The future of the Internet should not be decided behind closed doors by D.C. lobbyists."

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