PALO ALTO, CALIF. – What if someone held a debate and only one side
showed up? The likely result is what happened here Thursday on the campus
of Stanford University, where a bunch of people sat around mostly
agreeing with each other.
To be sure, there were some differences of opinion in this debate on
Net neutrality, sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission. But
they were minor compared to the fireworks that would have ensued had the
Internet Service Providers showed up.
Of course, that’s probably why they stayed away.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Robert McDowell expressed
disappointment that Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and CableLabs
declined repeated invitations to show at the event. Comcast
did participate at a similar public hearing at Harvard Law School
earlier this year. Martin
also spoke on the issue of network neutrality at an event at Stanford
Law School just last month.
“I do wish there were some network operators here to answer questions,”
he said. “I am very disappointed that they aren’t here.”
The ISPs, and Comcast in particular, are under fire for slowing or throttling traffic on their networks, in particular peer-to-peer
traffic like BitTorrent, which is used to exchange large amounts of
data. Among the guest speakers was Robb Topolski, a network engineer who
first uncovered that Comcast was throttling network traffic.
The event opened with statements from the entire FCC panel. FCC
Commissioner Michael Copps won over the audience the best with his
speech. “It is important to the economy and our position in the world
that the open Internet, perhaps the most wonderful innovation since the
printing press, be kept open,” he said. “There are powerful interests in
the land who would bring it under control for their purposes which may
not be your purposes.”
Don’t tread on me
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein was also pretty vocal in calling for
power to deal with companies like Comcast, lest they interfere with the
Internet again. ” Consumers are saying ‘don’t tread on me’ and people who
look the other way do so at their own peril, and the government that does
so does it at its own peril,” he said.
However, Martin was a little more restrained, arguing that the FCC’s
current Internet policy is sufficient and only needs to be enforced to
guarantee that whatever actions Internet service providers are taking is
tailored to “a legitimate purpose.” He also sided with Comcast, saying it
should be permitted to manage its network to insure that traffic flows
Stanford professor Lawrence
Lessig gave the FCC an earful in his usual genteel manner. “We are
facing these problems because of a failure of FCC policy,” he said, with
the full FCC sitting a few feet behind him. “The burden should be on
those who would change its architecture,” Lessig continued.