Witnesses rip ISPs, FCC over Internet regulation

FCC boss Kevin Martin probably was longing for the warm comforts of his life inside the Beltway after a three-hour-long, often ardent hearing on Net neutrality at Stanford University's law school yesterday. Martin and fellow commissioners traveled to the Left Coast to reprise a hearing held at Harvard (best remembered for Comcast's seat-stuffing escapades). Comcast was noticeably absent from yesterday's hearing (as were AT&T, Verizon and all the other operators who'd been invited), and it was pretty obvious from the tone of the meeting they hadn't managed to send any friendly bodies.
Here's the nugget: Despite Comcast's claims it's no longer throttling big users and is working with BitTorrent and Pando Networks to create a P2P "bill of rights," software engineer Robert Topolski told commission members his network access still was being restricted. Topolski, by the way, is the squeaky wheel who got the FCC's attention after posting a complaint on the Internet about Comcast's throttling.
He was joined by an array of witnesses who lambasted the big ISPs, saying the methods they were using to control the Internet and block P2P sharing were "akin to those used by computer outlaws and hackers." Some of the 300 people in attendance had plenty to say about the FCC, too, criticizing it for failing "to make it absolutely clear that network owners, if they're building the Internet, have to make it absolutely open." Many said free speech was at issue, and urged the FCC to act promptly and aggressively.
For their part, FCC commissioners Robert McDowell and Deborah Tate, seemed to feel network operators were on track. "Technology and the marketplace seem to be responding to appropriate oversight mechanisms," Tate said. But Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein said the agency needs to crackdown on ISPs discriminating against some customers.
And the Big Kahuna? Chairman Kevin Martin played Solomon, saying the FCC has the powers it needs, but needs to use them, but adding that operators need to be allowed to manage their networks to ensure smooth traffic flow.
Xerox Palo Alto Research Center computer scientist, L. Peter Deutsch, disagreed: "Comcast's actions to date have shown that they cannot be trusted to self regulate." -Jim O'Neill
For more on regulating the Internet:
- Check out the article in the N.Y. Times
- Or the Washington Post blog