FCC serious about net neutrality


WASHINGTON -- The FCC is getting serious about the thorny problem of network neutrality as it scheduled a public hearing on the issue in Boston this month.

The hearing comes in response to a pair of petitions filed at the commission by the public-interest group SavetheInternet.com Coalition and Vuze Inc. -- a company that distributes video using BitTorrent file-sharing technology. The "network management" petitions neatly bracket the decisions the commission will have to make about just what network neutrality means and how the government applies the principle.

"We are in a unique moment in history when the government will decide whether we have a closed Internet controlled by a small handful of giant corporations, or an open Internet controlled by the people who use it," said Free Press campaign director Timothy Karr.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee introduced legislation Tuesday that ensconces the network neutrality principle into law. While Markey's move is a crucial one, it is unrealistic to think legislation that makes that big a change will get through this congress.

Big network companies like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable contend that a firm regulatory hand is unneeded and that they have the right to manage the networks they built.

The pressure comes as revelations have come that the big network companies may have been favoring one kind of traffic over another or blocking content.

In an investigation last year, The Associated Press found that Comcast in some cases hindered file sharing by subscribers who used BitTorrent. The findings, first reported Oct. 19, confirmed claims by users who also noticed interference with other file-sharing applications.

Comcast and the other network companies contend that they do not block file sharing, but even Comcast acknowledges milder interventions to improve the flow of traffic for the majority of its customers.