ISPs Ditch Net Neutrality Hearing

Dennis Faas's picture

The Federal Communications Commission has begun hearings into net neutrality, the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, without representatives of the major Internet and telephone companies.

Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner all turned down invitations to speak at the meeting at Stanford University. However, 15 witnesses did testify at the seven-hour hearing, mainly in support of the neutrality principle. (Source:

The hearings follow formal complaints that Comcast is specifically blocking users from uploading large files such as videos or music files during busy times.

At the moment, the FCC's policy is that any Internet user should be able to access any content they like (except for material which is illegal) without restrictions. This would, for example, stop an American-based Internet provider censoring particular websites. In theory it rules out Comcast telling customers when they can and can't upload files.

However, Comcast officials believe the FCC's policy is only a recommendation and is not a legal requirement.

The FCC's five commissioners seem split on the issue. Two say that the agency needs stronger powers to enforce the net neutrality principle, while two argue that further regulations would be too much of a burden on Internet carriers.

Chairman Kevin Martin seems to hold the balance of power. Speaking at the hearing he said the existing regulations were strong enough but need to be firmly enforced. He argues that providers should be allowed to have policies to control their levels of traffic (such as Comcast's uploading restrictions), but that customers must be made aware of these rules before signing up.

There's some question over whether net neutrality has been maintained by government regulation anyway, or whether it's decided by market forces. Blogger Dana Blankenhorn points out that most consumers generally want net neutrality (even if they don't think of it in those terms) and will take their business elsewhere if they don't get it. (Source:

The problem now is that many consumers have little choice of Internet provider besides their telephone company or cable operators (even assuming they are two different companies). With Internet providers gaining more power in the market place, lawmakers may have to decide if net neutrality is an unbreakable rule or merely a guiding principle.

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