Network-Neutrality Backers Praise Martin

FCC Chairman Pledged Support During Speech at 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show

Network-neutrality fans were praising Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin Tuesday for saying that the FCC would act aggressively to ensure that networks are not blocking access to the Internet.

In a speech at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Martin said in response to a question about network neutrality that the FCC will continue to investigate complaints to make sure Comcast -- the subject of a complaint -- and other network operators play fair.

A complaint was filed at the FCC by Free Press in November against Comcast for allegedly interfering with peer-to-peer file sharing. Comcast countered that it "does not, has not and will not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services," saying instead that it "engage[s] in reasonable network management to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience, and we do so consistently with FCC policy.”

Free Press, Public Knowledge and others also called for a declaratory ruling by the FCC that "intentionally degrading a targeted network application" violates the FCC's open-access principles, does not fall under the "reasonable network-management exception" and is a deceptive practice.

The FCC has a set of open access principles that Martin has said are sufficient to deal with violators without codifying them into rules, but groups like Free Press, Public Knowledge and others have pushed for those rules, including wanting Congress to establish network neutrality in the law.

The FCC opened the door to the network-neutrality issue after ruling that Internet access was not subject to the same mandatory access rules as phone service and that network operators were not required to open their networks to unaffiliated Internet-service providers.

Both Free Press and Public Knowledge urged Martin to follow through on the investigation and enforcement. "Public Knowledge is pleased to see that the chairman and the commission are willing to stand by their principles to protect American consumers," the group responded Tuesday. "We look forward to FCC proceedings that will determine what are legitimate uses of power by telecom companies and which are not."

"We are encouraged by the chairman's statements today about investigating Comcast's blocking of peer-to-peer traffic," Free Press said. "We hope the chairman's statements, made two months after we filed our complaint, will lead to immediate and accelerated action at the FCC on the critical issue of whether Comcast, AT&T and other Internet-service providers can block the services people want to use. The FCC must stop these would-be gatekeepers and fine companies that censor the free flow of information."

Those groups are looking at how the FCC deals with the complaint and calling for a declaratory ruling to judge Martin’s argument that the FCC has the power and the will to enforce its nondiscrimination principles.