Category Archives: net neutrality

Net Neutrality and White Spaces Remain in the Limelight at Association Conference

I appreciate all the great traffic I’ve received in recent days for my posts about the white spaces issue. This morning I posted two news articles on coming out of the Wireless Communications Association’s conference in San Jose. Follow the links to read the pieces.

Net Neutrality Advocates: Wireless Carriers’ Network Management Must be ‘Reasonable’

SAN JOSE, November 7 – Emboldened by their summertime victory against Comcast, advocates of network neutrality said Thursday that the next front in battle for the principle would be against wireless carriers who make “unreasonable” network management decisions. read more

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s Incredible Silicon Valley Wi-Fi Adventure

SAN JOSE, November 6 – It was Kevin Martin’s day to suck up praise from Silicon Valley. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission – for about two more months – came to the Wireless Communications Association’s annual conference here on Thursday to be feted by many Googlers, including company co-founder Larry Page. read more

FCC Hammers Comcast For Deception and Unreasonable Internet Practices

News Analysis

By Drew Clark, Editor,

WASHINGTON, August 1 – The Federal Communication Commission’s enforcement action against Comcast can be seen either as a limited response to a company’s deceptive practices, or a sweeping new venture by the agency into regulating internet policy.

In ruling against Comcast on Friday, the agency ordered the company to “disclose the details of its discriminatory network management practices,” “submit a compliance plan” to end those practices by year-end, and “disclose to customers and the [FCC] the network management practices that will replace current practices.”

At issue in the decision was whether Comcast had engaged in “reasonable network management” practices when it delayed and effetively blocked access to users of BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer software program.

Although BitTorrent had already settled its complaints with Comcast, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said that FCC action was necessary because the complaint had been brought by Free Press and Public Knowledge, two non-profit groups. The FCC did not impose a fine.

Martin said that he viewed the agency’s decision to punish the cable operator as a quasi-judicial matter: a “fact-intensive inquiry” against a specific company that it found to have “selectively block[ed]” peer-to-peer traffic.

That interpretation would make the FCC action more limited. A statement by AT&T Senior Vice President Jim Cicconi – that “the FCC decided to handle the matter on its own unique facts, setting a wise precedent for dealing with such complaints on a case-by-case basis” — supported that interpretation.

On the other hand, Martin acknowledged that the order against Comcast did set a precedent for future action against other network operators. And he said that the agency had authority to hear and resolve any such complaints of network neutrality violations.

Net neutrality generally refers to legislation or regulation that would bar Bell companies and cable operators from expediting the internet delivery of favored business partners’ content – or blocking the content of rivals. The issue has become a political hot potato in the general election.

The ability for the FCC to become the venue for such future complaints would suggest a more sweeping interpretation of the action. On a Friday conference call, pro-Net neutrality advocates pushed that view, calling it a “bellweather case” and or, as Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said, “a landmark decision.”

A Net neutrality critic at the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), a free-market think tank, called the decision “quite intrusive.”

In asserting that it had jurisdiction over Comcast and its practices, the FCC declared that it will “exercise its authority to oversee federal Internet policy in adjudicating this and other disputes regarding discriminatory network management practices.”

“In second-guessing reasonable network management techniques (with no notice or guidelines in place) that benefit the overwhelming number of broadband subscribers in America, the FCC has inexplicably elevated the interests of a few bandwidth hogs over everyone else,” said Klye McSlarrow, CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

In a statement, a Comcast spokeswoman said the company was grateful that the commission did not impose a fine, but raised “significant due process concerns” with the decision.

The Republican Martin teamed up with the commission’s two Democrats in favoring an order against Comcast. The other two Republicans dissented, and signaled the concern that the FCC would become a forum for technical engineering disputes that it was not competent to resolve.

All three Republicans, including the dissenting Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell, emphasized the need for greater transparency about network and speed tier management by carriers.

“I must also stress the importance of disclosure and transparency by all internet providers,” said Tate. “Consumers must be able to know what they are paying for and getting. Comcast must do better.”

Of the two ways to look at the decision — sweeping or limited — Martin’s own statements emphasized the narrower reading of the FCC’s action. He and the agency emphasized consumer-focused concerns raised by Comcast’s behavior.

“Would you be OK with the post office opening your mail, deciding they didn’t want to bother delivering it, and hiding that fact by sending it back to your stamped ‘address unknown – return to sender?’” Martin asked. “That is exactly what Comcast was doing with their subscribers’ internet traffic.”

The six “findings” articulated by the Friday speech at the agency dealt extensively with the allegedly invasive, intrusive and deceptive aspects of Comcast’s “deep packet inspection.” (See findings here.)

The fact that no fine was levied against Comcast was a sign, Martin said in an interview, of the agency’s cautious approach.

Martin also argued that the FCC’s action was necessary to forstall legislation requiring Net neutrality. “Failure to act here” — in a case where Comcast has exhibited so much bad faith, Martin said — “would have reasonably led to the conclusion that new legislation and rules are necessary.”

Attempting to further restrict the scope of the decision, Martin said that the order does not address pricing, economic regulation, the requirement that carriers share their communications wires, or whether or not carriers may prioritize a particular class of software.

For example, cable operators could prioritize internet telephone service, so long as they didn’t discriminate against a competitor’s service at their expense of their own service.

By contrast, the pro- and anti-Net neutrality advocates emphasized the more seminal aspects of Friday’s decision.

“This is the Bush administration FCC saying that the FCC has the power to protect internet users,” said Public Knowledge’s Sohn, calling it “the most significant decision for the public interest” in 20 years.

Marvin Ammori, general counsel at Free Press, called the decision “bellwether case legally” because the FCC ordered Comcast not only to stop its deceptive practices, but to stop its unreasonable practices, he said.

“It is sweeping in that it is a process and a procedure that [the FCC] will follow” in future cases.

Barbara Esbin, senior fellow at PFF, agreed that the decision was sweeping, but disagreed that it was a good outcome. “If the commission is correct, they have taken a very small step in a narrowly focused case against one operator,” she said.

“I don’t agree,” Esbin continued. “I think this is quite intrusive, and will create an unacceptable degree of uncertainty among companies and network engineers as to what is and is not permissible, and will require the FCC to continually make decisions on engineering practices in real time.”


Documents and Articles Referenced by this Article:

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AT&T Reacts to FCC Action Against Comcast

WASHINGTON, August 1, 12:13 p.m. – AT&T has issued this statement on the FCC action:

“Regardless of how one views the merits of the complaint against Comcast, the FCC today has shown that its national internet policies work, and that they are more than sufficient for handling any net neutrality concerns that may arise,” said Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president of AT&T. “We have argued repeatedly that there is no need for federal legislation in this area, and today’s FCC action proves that point.

“Once a complaint was filed alleging that Comcast had violated the FCC’s national internet policies, it was appropriate for the FCC to adjudicate the complaint. We are pleased the FCC decided to handle the matter on its own unique facts, setting a wise precedent for dealing with such complaints on a case-by-case basis. We are also pleased that, by deciding not to levy a fine, the FCC effectively recognized there was no evidence of anticompetitive intent in Comcast’s practices.”

Comcast, Free Press React to FCC Decision on Network Management

WASHINGTON, August 1, 11:53 a.m. – Comcast has issued this statement:

“One need look no further than today’s FCC decision for proof that engineering challenges on the Internet should be solved by engineers, not government officials,” said National Cable and Telecommunications Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow. “In second-guessing reasonable network management techniques (with no notice or guidelines in place) that benefit the overwhelming number of broadband subscribers in America, the FCC has inexplicably elevated the interests of a few bandwidth hogs over everyone else.”

Free Press has issued this statement:

“The FCC’s bipartisan decision to punish Comcast is a major victory,” said Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver. “Defying every ounce of conventional wisdom in Washington, everyday people have taken on a major corporation and won an historic precedent for an open Internet.

“Comcast’s history of deception and continued blocking show contempt for the online consumer protections established by the FCC. We commend Chairman Martin and Commissioners Copps and Adelstein for standing up for Internet users and working across party lines to protect free speech and the free market.

“Today’s order makes it clear that there is nothing reasonable about restricting access to online content or technologies. Moving forward, this bellwether case will send a strong signal to cable and phone companies that such violations will not be tolerated.

“But the fight is far from over. A duopoly market — where phone and cable companies control nearly 99 percent of high-speed connections — will not discipline itself. We look forward to working with the FCC and Congress to ensure proactive measures keep the Internet open and free of discrimination, and accessible to all Americans.”

FCC Gives Comcast to Year-End to Disclose Practices

WASHINGTON, August 1, 11:37 a.m. – The Federal Communications Commission “announced its intention to exercise its authority to oversee federal Internet policy in adjudicating” Comcast’s network management practices, the agency said this morning.

The five commissioners are still debating the matter, but according to a release issued by the FCC, the agency will require Comcast, within 30 days, to:

“Disclose the details of its discriminatory network management practices to the Commision;”

“Submit a compliance plan describing how it intends to stop these discriminatory management practices by the end of the year;”

“Disclose to customers and the Commission the network management practices that will replace current practices.”

The commission vote has not yet been taken, but is expected to be 3-2, with Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican, siding with the agency’s two Democrats. Republican Commissioners Robert McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate have already voiced their dissent.

From the FCC, We’re Live….

…but, fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission is not. The great thing about the Kevin Martin FCC is that you never have to worry about being late. For example, we’re live at the FCC for the 9:30 a.m. meeting:

The FCC, 9:49 a.m.

The FCC, 9:49 a.m.

I’ll be live-Twittering the event, so check back here on (look at the column on the right – or just go to Twitter and “follow” me) for the latest updates. Later in the day, I’ll be posting a story about the event at

Free Press, Google and Others Form Pro-Broadband Initiative

News from the Personal Democracy Forum in New York:

By Drew Bennett, Special Correspondent,

NEW YORK, June 24 – A group of non-profits, businesses and others organizations seeking to guide the creation of a national broadband plan on Tuesday announced the formation of a new initiative, “Internet for Everyone,” seeking the highlight the crucial importance of broadband.

The initiative, which was officially launched at a breakout room in the Lincoln Center here, where the Personal Democracy Forum was being held, gathering internet luminaries including Stanford University professor Lawrence Lessig; Vint Cerf, chief technology evangelist at Google, Tim Wu, Columbia University law professor and Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press.

[...] Continue Reading “Free Press, Google and Others Form Pro-Broadband Initiative” at

Bugs in Twitter

I was writing about how Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., had praised FCC Chairman Michael Powell for his articulation of the “four freedoms” of Internet, or his early articulation of Net Neutrality rules. (It got duplicated on Twitter, and then my delete snagged both items. The same duplication happened with Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.)

Pickering went on to claims that current FCC Chairman continues that approach (four freedoms) on Net Neutrality.

Pickering concluded: “We do not want government intervention, regulation, but we want the private sector to take the leadership in preserving an open business model, and that is my purpose for joining with Mr. Markey on this legislation.”

Net Neutrality Critics Now in the Limelight

In the wake of the Federal Communications Commission’s “network management” event in Cambridge, Mass., on February 25, it looks as though Net Neutrality critics are finally enjoying their day in the sun.


Last week, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation hosted two of the most knowledgeable critics, Richard Bennett and Brett Glass, at their own forum on the subject. At the event, Brett unveiled a list of his own seven Net Neutrality principles. For Glass, it’s all about disclosure — full disclosure of the Internet Service Provider’s terms of service, disclosure of the behavior of software, and “no obfuscation” about the way that software has on network management.


Bennett was one of a handful of Net Neutrality critics to also testify at the FCC event at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, the majority of whose witnesses spoke out sharply against Comcast’s decision to delay traffic to the P2P application BitTorrent. Bennett posted the slides that he presented at the ITIF event, in which he articulated his own eight questions on appropriate network management practices:


  1. Does the practice support a rational goal, such as the fair distribution of bandwidth?
  2. Is it applied, adapted, or modified by network conditions?
  3. Does it conform to standard Internet practices, or to national or international standards, and if not, does it improve on them?
  4. Has it been communicated to customers?
  5. Has technical information that would allow for independent analysis been made available to the research community and the public at large?
  6. Does the practice interfere with customer control of traffic priorities or parameters consistent with terms of service?
  7. Is the practice efficient with respect to both the upstream and downstream data paths?
  8. Does the practice accomplish its purpose with minimal disruption to the network experience of customers as a whole?


Bennett’s talk highlighted how Japan’s 100 megabits per second delivery to the home has created a traffic mix dominated by peer-to-peer applications. On his blog, he noted that now it appears as though Japan’s Internet service providers are going to go after P2P piracy.


Meanwhile, the debate about piracy and network management is about to get more complicated here at home. Last week Motion Picture Association of America chairman Dan Glickman waded into the debate by opposing mandatory network neutrality rules.


In a speech at the ShoWest Convention in Las Vegas, Glickman said: “Government regulation of the Internet would be a terrible reversal of American innovation policy … would impede our ability to respond to consumers in innovative ways and impair the ability of broadband providers to address the serious and rampant piracy problems occurring over their networks today.”


The Independent Film & Television Alliance responded in a letter on March 14 that it was “astounded” to hear that the major studios “denounced the principle of ‘net neutrality’ and its advocates.”


Other critics of Net Neutrality are raising fears of an “Internet Traffic Jam,” which was favorably reported on by Steve Lohr of The New York Times on March 13. According to Lohr’s story, many experts are warning that the new World Wide Wait is being caused by P2P video users hogging all of those fat pipes that the cable and telco providers spent billion to rollout.


Predictions to the contrary aside, the fights over Net Neutrality aren’t over. Not at all.