Comcast and FCC Spar at Net Neutrality Hearing

The Federal Communications Commission, prompted by complaints about Comcast possibly blocking access to some sites to better manage its network load, convened hearings on Monday to determine if the practice is reasonable, according to Online Media Dailey on Tuesday. There are implications for Apple and other independents who deliver high bandwidth services.

A spokesperson for the advocacy group, Marvin Ammori, said that "the future of online television and the future of the Internet," is at stake.

However, Comcast doesnit see it that way. Comcast Vice President David Cohen sees what they do as routine network load management. "Thereis nothing wrong with network management," Mr. Cohen said. "Every broadband network is managed, and every network must be managed or no network would function."

The furor started when the Associated Press verified complaints by the video company Vuze that Comcast was impeding traffic to some peer-to-peer sites. However, that practice is, in principle, a violation of the FCCs policy statement on net neutrality.

"We must preserve the open and neutral character of the Internet," said Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. "It is clear consumers donit want the Internet to be another version of old media dominated by a number of giants."

At issue now is whether the FCC has the legal authority to demand Comcast stop the practice. Comcast doesnit think they do.

The problem is that if Comcast sees spikes in traffic due to particular sites as harmful to the operation of their network, theyill certainly see a competitoris site as equally harmful.

One of the commissioners, Martin Copps, referred to obscure network practices that arenit spelled out as "black box" policies, which he doesnit like. He put it this way: "There an old Washington adage that decisions made without you are usually decisions made against you."

As companies that deliver Internet services to customers more and more see profit from also delivering video services, independent companies without that infrastructure could be at a disadvantage. Apple is one of those companies. Now that Apple is working hard to deliver high-definition video, which demands large data rates, any policies by carriers that punish high bandwidth competitors could adversely affect Appleis ability to compete -- unless of course Apple is leveraged into paying big dollars for preferential treatment. That would serve to make their services less profitable. This is the scenario everyone who watches net neutrality issues is trying to avoid.

The meeting was held in Cambridge on Monday at the Harvard Law School. Police had to turn away some people who wanted to attend because the crowd was so large.