The FCC Holds Hearings on the Comcast Strangle Hold on Bandwidth
By Virginia DeBolt on April 19, 2008
BlogHer Original Post
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) met this week at Stanford University to talk about network management or net neutrality. The specific issue was Comcast's well publicized habit of deciding what information makes it through their broadband pipes and what does not.
Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig was one of the people scheduled to speak at the hearings. Before the hearings began, he was interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. Lessig is the founder and co-director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society and chair of the Creative Commons project. Goodman asked him to define Net Neutrality.
AMY GOODMAN: What exactly does “net neutrality” mean?
LAWRENCE LESSIG: Yeah. It means—it’s something that should be very familiar. Think about the electricity grid. All right, when you plug a television into the electricity grid, it doesn’t ask, “Is it a Sony television or a Panasonic television?” It doesn’t ask, “Is it a toaster made in America or a toaster made in Japan?” It just runs. It just works. And that’s because the electricity grid is a neutral network in this sense. You comply with the protocols—what the plug’s got to look like and how much power you’re taking—and it runs. That’s the way the internet was. It used to be it didn’t matter whether it was a browser made by Microsoft or a browser made by Netscape or a browser made by Mozilla. It just ran because the protocols said if you follow the rules, the system will run.
What’s happening now is it’s as if the electricity company was beginning to control what you could plug into the electricity grid, deciding which televisions it would allow and basically selling the right to be a television on the electricity grid. So they say, for example, if you want to have internet content on our platform, you’re going to have to pay us to have internet content on your platform. So it’s not about the consumer having the power to choose whatever the consumer wants to watch. It’s about whether the network owner also wants to make this available to the consumer. So it radically changes what the internet is and makes it something much less vibrant and potential for democracy and free speech.
You can hear or watch the complete Amy Goodman interview with Lawrence Lessing at the democrarynow.org site.
Chloe Albanesius at GearLog heard the hearings. She wrote FCC Grill Tech Experts on Comcast Network Policies. Her introduction:
I jumped back on the webcast to catch the tail end of the first panel on network management and consumer expectations, where the commissioners grilled more than a half dozen experts.
Below are some highlights from the rather spirited debate.
Chloe didn't cover the whole hearing, but you do get a quick look at some of the conversation at her site.
You can find more coverage at the FCC site's page on audio/video events, which promises a complete audio recording of the hearings will be posted soon.
As SavetheInternet.com points out,
Not one person on the expert panels, made up of scholars, network engineers, lawyers, and consumer advocates defended Comcast's practices of blocking and discriminating online.
Further background is available from The Writing Corner: Beth Wellington on politics and culture in the article Comcast and AT&T et. al. snub FCC broadband hearing. Beth talks about the previous hearing, held in February at Harvard, and points out that Comcast and others declined to attend this week's hearing.
Michele Masterson at Channel Web reports that Comcast Passes On FCC Net Neutrality Hearing.
Comcast's non-attendance comes just days after it said it was launching a "best practices" industry initiative about how to manage peer-to-peer filing sharing and that it will work with Pando Networks, a provider of managed P2P content delivery services.
Now isn't that an interesting development? Especially since Comcast did attend the first hearing on this topic, but stuffed the seats with non-participants so the real commenters couldn't get in. Michele Masterson said,
The first FCC hearing regarding the issue was held this past February at Harvard Law School. Comcast again ran afoul of its critics when it was discovered that the company hired seat warmers to populate the meeting, and according to its detractors, purposely shut out advocates of net neutrality in addition to the general public.
Speaking of critics, how 'bout those Ranging Grannies? The New York Times posted The Raging Grannies Greet the FCC, complete with a video of The Ragin Grannies singing a protest song outside the hearing.
At PopConsumer in Time to Reclaim the FCC, Maria took on a whole range of issues around the FCC, including programming during the so-called "family hour," censoring sex but not violence, and more. Maria points out issues with the FCC, saying,
The real travesty in my mind is that outrage of any sort expressed to the FCC no longer results in any action in favor of the community and citizens. Prior to the vote on allowing further media consolidation thousands of citizens at hearings around the country and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle urged FCC chairman Kevin Martin to not press forward with this move. And Martin pushed it through anyway. The FCC has become a lackey serving corporate interests rather than acting in service to the citizens of the United States who own the airwaves and grant corporations the right to broadcast over them as long as they do so with consideration to our needs and concerns. They have no capitalist right to profit from the public good we lease to them without regard to our voices.
The PopConsumer article also pointed out that the prim can't demand control over sex and language at prime time without allowing other people to press demands on the FCC as well.
Still, I believe that if we want the FCC to pay attention to Americans when we say we want net neutrality (300 people showed up at Stanford [last week] to tell the FCC and Comcast to stop throttling) and do not want corporate consolidation of news outlets which further limits the independent points of views we hear and that we want local news outlets to cover local news and not just run AP newswire pieces (which are increasingly biased and crappy), then we have to allow for our prim and proper neighbors to also say they don't want talk of tits and boners at 8 pm and not expressing concern over simulated machine gun deaths, autopsies and The Donald's combover.
I see fearful warnings in newspapers and magazines that the U.S. will fill our broadband copacity completely soon and there just won't be enough pipes to let everyone on the Internet. Is this some sort of spin that is supposed to make us inclined to accept the idea that corporations can regulate the Internet service we receive? Or could it be that companies that make their money providing us with TV or phone service don't want to see that service move to the Internet where they can't charge for it?
Other reports that say broadband adoptions in countries in Europe and Asia is much more complete, reliable, speedy, and developed as an infrastructure than in the U.S. Are American companies that build the infrastructure, the broadband pipes that connect us to the Internet, deliberately limiting our ability to get to the Internet so that they can make it more profitable somehow? It certainly makes me wonder about such things when I read the headlines that scream 'no more bandwidth in 5 years' or similar statements.
If you haven't yet signed up at Save the Internet http://www.savetheinternet.com/ so that you can get updates, sign petitions, and take action on net neutrality, do it now. Let your representatives and the FCC know that you want a neutral network connection to the Internet.
Related Articles: Net Neutrality Under Siege by Laura Scott
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