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Groups call on FCC to keep internet open

*Consumers Union * Consumer Federation of America *

April 16, 2008
Consumer Groups Call on FCC to Keep Internet Open and Non-Discriminatory to Preserve Choice, Innovation, and Competition

Washington, DC—Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Consumers Union (CU) call on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to exercise its authority to define and enforce the neutrality of the Internet’s open network in comments submitted for the record for the FCC’s public hearing on April 17th in Palo Alto, California.
“Comcast has blatantly violated the FCC’s Internet Principles, misled consumers about the quality of service, and degraded the service of competing video programmers,” said Mark Cooper, Director of Research at the Consumer Federation of America. “It secret, nonstandard approach to traffic management violates the transparent, cooperative approach to congestion that has been a cornerstone of the Internet’s success.
CFA and CU stated in comments today that the FCC has no choice but to use its authority to preserve the neutrality of the network, or risk undermining the very principles communications networks have operated under for decades.
“To put it bluntly, Comcast is willing to mislead consumers and undermine the value of the Internet to protect its market power in the multichannel video programming market,” said Gene Kimmelman, Vice President of Federal and International Affairs for Consumers Union. “Having restricted consumer choice by forcing consumers to buy big bundles of channels delivered as cable packages, it is seeking to prevent consumers from exercising choice on the Internet by degrading Internet services that compete with cable programming and which, it so happens, offer consumers true choice — the ability to pay for only what you really want,” added Kimmelman.
“Indeed, an open, nondiscriminatory communications network has been the first principle of U.S. communications since the obligation of nondiscrimination was grounded in the common law brought over by English settlers,” reads the submitted comments.
“Comcast’s strategy is clear. It manages its network to maximize the capacity for its franchise service – one-way video distribution. At the same time, it holds itself out as a communications company selling broadband access. However, because it has under allocated network resources to its communications business, it invokes the claim of scarcity to discriminate against Internet service providers. Not so coincidentally, the service providers who bear the brunt of this discrimination just happen to provide service that competes against its franchise business.
Simultaneously, it makes misleading claims to consumers about the quality of service it provides to the public. It will not give consumers clear information about what they can and cannot do, instead claiming broad presumptive rights to kick consumers off the network or otherwise interdict their service,” read the comments.
“There is no doubt that the decisions to promote competition and extend the principle of non-discrimination to data traffic were unmitigated successes – the pillars on which the Internet stood,” read the comments. The groups’ comments are calling on the Commission to “exercise its authority vigorously to preserve the neutrality of the network, or risk undermining one of the most remarkable inventions in human history.”
“Comcast’s shenanigans in first denying its degrading of P2P applications, then defending them, then claiming a deal with BitTorrent, then declaring it intention to work out a ‘bill of rights’ with on ISP, only underscore how important it is for the FCC to set clear principles for reasonable network management, added Cooper. “Without action by the FCC, there is no certainty the principles will actually protect consumers and service providers, or that Comcast, which has lied in the past, will not do so again. Innovation demands a stable, open environment to thrive.”
“It is obvious that the marketplace is not working, and that Comcast would not have stopped its anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices without the threat of FCC action. If the FCC does not follow through and require transparency, nondiscrimination in access to network functionalities, Comcast will have made a mockery of the Internet Principles,” said Kimmelman.
For a copy of the comments, click here.
Jennifer Fuson