INTX 2015: Kent Quizzes Commissioners On Dispute-Related Blocking

Rosenworcel says it is not net neutrality issue, but problem nonetheless
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Jerry Kent, cochair of INTX and CEO of Suddenlink, looked to get some answers from FCC commissioners at the show on whether blocking his subs' online access to online content was a network neutrality violation and, if not, why not. He got an answer to at least half the question from one commissioner, while the Republicans who did not support net neutrality rules deferred.

At the end of Tuesday's panel session featuring four of the five FCC commissioners, "Help me out," said Kent from the audience.

In a Q&A session following the panel discussion, Kent said as far as he knew, no ISP was blocking or throttling traffic, "unless something was going on that I'm not aware of." He said that he "got" that the FCC was reclassifying ISPs under Title II common carrier regs to make sure nothing happened in the future. But he suggested there was unreasonable blocking going on now that was not being addressed.

"Today, we have programmers who block access to their Web sites when they had a dispute with an ISP," he said. He pointed to the major dispute he had with a "very large programmer," he did not say Viacom, but suggested everyone was aware of who he was talking about.

Kent said that a DirecTV or Dish customer getting Internet access from Suddenlink was "theoretically paying for that content,” then asked them whether they thought it was a network neutrality violation and, if not, why not.

Republican commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Ajit Pai begged off, pointing out that they did not support the net neutrality rules. Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel agreed it was "flat out a problem" when any consumer can't access lawful content online, which certainly sounded like network neutrality language. But she said:  "I don't think that falls squarely within our network neutrality rules." She did say she shared Kent's frustration. "I think consumers should always have access to the bounty of the Web."

Last October, when Viacom began blocking Suddenlink sub access after its failure to reach a new carriage deal, Suddenlink complained the blocking was a violation of net neutrality. Viacom countered that its content "is available through hundreds of partners, including cable, satellite and many online destinations...Suddenlink abruptly decided to end our relationship, which has resulted in the continued interruption of Viacom programming across platforms, including online, through Suddenlink.”

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