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Advocacy groups in war of words over need to investigate Comcast's alleged BitTorrent throttling

Just a little while ago, I received an email from MoveOn.org, with their reaction to a letter that the Hands Off the Internet coalition sent to FCC Chair Kevin Martin on Wednesday, requesting that the regulatory body investigate Comcast's possible throttling of Bit Torrent traffic.
Written by Russell Shaw, Contributor

Just a little while ago, I received an email from MoveOn.org, with their reaction to a letter that the Hands Off the Internet coalition sent to FCC Chair Kevin Martin on Wednesday, requesting that the regulatory body investigate Comcast's possible throttling of Bit Torrent traffic.

First, to be fair, here's the text of the Hands Off letter:

Dear Mr. Chairman:

During your tenure as FCC chairman, you have supported the free market over government regulation as the best way to preserve free expression and speech while also bringing new benefits to Internet users.

The Hands Off the Internet coalition has supported this view, as we believe it is consistent with America's traditional "light regulatory touch" Internet policies that have enjoyed strong bipartisan support for more than a decade.

As you know, the cornerstones of today's open Internet are the four principles embedded in the FCC's August 2005 net neutrality policy statement:

Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice; Consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement; Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers. These principles are the necessary safety net to protect consumers and the openness and freedom of the Internet.

Comcast's actions toward BitTorrent: Initial reports and subsequent confusion demand FCC investigation

Comcast stands accused of violating the FCC's four principles. The company has responded by offering the rationale for the actions it took. Now the ball is in your court.

The FCC must determine if any of its four principles have in fact been violated. If not, and the process has been fair and open, then so be it. If after reviewing the facts, the FCC determines that the company has been in violation, then the FCC must determine the remedy.

With both outcomes, the process works and the integrity of the four principles are intact.

The FCC is on firm ground to investigate this possible violation of the open Internet

From a legal standpoint, Mr. Chairman, we believe the FCC has clear authority to enforce its four principles. Title 1 of the Communications Act of 1934 specifically grants the FCC the power to:

"regulat[e] interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio [and to] perform any and all acts, make such rules and regulations, and issue such orders" to fulfill this mission.

In 2005, in the Brand X case, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC's authority, writing that provisions in the Communications Act:

"give the Commission the authority to promulgate binding legal rules…. [Also,] the Commission has jurisdiction to impose additional regulatory obligations [on Internet Service Providers under its authority] … to regulate interstate and foreign communications…."

Finally, as you testified to the Senate Commerce Committee on September 12, 2006 when asked if the FCC had authority to stop an Internet provider from blocking or degrading access:

"The Commission does have authority under Title 1 of the Communications Act, and indeed last summer the Supreme Court… stated that the Commission has ancillary authority to adopt additional rules over the infrastructure providers of broadband access…. So I think we do have that authority."

We believe you do, too. Mr. Chairman, we were on record during the 109th Congress in support of codifying these principles into federal law. Though the legislation was held up and did not pass into law, we remain committed to these Four Principles and we urge you to move expeditiously to resolve any possible violations and uphold their integrity.

Sincerely,

Mike McCurry Co-Chair

Christopher Wolf Co-Chair

OK, so what's the big problem here?

Seems as though MoveOn.org smells a rat in that AT&T- is a prime mover in the Hands Off the Internet Coalition, but major competitor Comcast is not. You see them up there in that grab? I don't.

So what MoveOn is saying is that:

The telcos who are the marquee members of Hands Off are wanting to sic the FCC on a competitor;

AT&T ain't no saint either. Just ask Pearl Jam.

Specifically, the MoveOn.org response says:

" AT&T's front group calling out Comcast is like Exxon calling out Texaco -- they're all bad faith actors with business models built on attacking competition in the marketplace and hurting consumers. If AT&T really wants to support Internet freedom, they should demand an investigation into their own censorship of Pearl Jam's online political speech, their own policies threatening to shut down Internet customers who criticize AT&T's illegal wiretapping, and Verizon's censorship of political groups' text messages." - Adam Green, MoveOn.org Civic Action Backup facts: calling out Comcast is like Exxon calling out Texaco -- they're all bad faith actors with business models built on attacking competition in the marketplace and hurting consumers. If AT&T really wants to support Internet freedom, they should demand an investigation into their own censorship of Pearl Jam's online political speech, their own policies threatening to shut down Internet customers who criticize AT&T's illegal wiretapping, and Verizon's censorship of political groups' text messages."

That's according to Adam Green, MoveOn.org Civic Action

Adam then adds these "backup facts:"

" AT&T's front group calling out Comcast is like Exxon calling out Texaco -- they're all bad faith actors with business models built on attacking competition in the marketplace and hurting consumers. If AT&T really wants to support Internet freedom, they should demand an investigation into their own censorship of Pearl Jam's online political speech, their own policies threatening to shut down Internet customers who criticize AT&T's illegal wiretapping, and Verizon's censorship of political groups' text messages." - Adam Green, MoveOn.org Civic Action Backup facts:

  • AT&T recently censored political statements by Pearl Jam -- first calling it a "solitary incident" that was not part of their policy, then it turned out there were multple incidents of censorship, then Wired had an AT&T staffer saying it was actually part of their policy. This content censorship proves these companies can't be trusted to be Internet gatekeepers.
  • AT&T was recently condemned by Internet freedom advocates for policies that cut off the Internet service of those who criticize AT&T. The fact that AT&T reserves the right to crack down on citizens who criticize their illegal wiretapping or their anti-Net Neutrality policies proves these companies can't be trusted to be Internet gatekeepers.
  • NARAL and the Christian Coalition recently denounced Verizon in a Wash Post op-ed for censoring text messages that it deemed "controversial." This blatant content censorship once again proves these companies can't be trusted to be Internet gatekeepers.

Lots of hissing and dissing. Now I am going to ask, which side are you on?

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