CDT to FCC: Tread Lightly on Network Management Issue

Written by David Sohn

Following revelations that Comcast sometimes interferes with its subscribers’ P2P upload traffic, the Internet neutrality debate is currently focused on “network management” — actions that ISPs take to “manage” traffic on their networks. ISPs say that to make their networks run well for all concerned, they need flexibility to employ network management tools as they see fit. Critics argue that ISPs shouldn’t degrade P2P, or other selected traffic, in the name of network management, because having ISPs play favorites poses risks to competition and innovation. On the heels of the Comcast news, the FCC was asked by a number of concerned parties to step in and decide the legitimacy of different kinds of network management practices. The FCC, in turn, asked the those interested in the issue to weigh in with their opinions by submitting formal comments to the agency. It also took the unusual step of holding an out-of-town hearing on the topic earlier this week in Boston.

Meanwhile, Congressman Markey recently introduced a new Internet neutrality bill. CDT submitted its second round of comments to the FCC yesterday, which respond to arguments made by others in the first comment round. CDT’s its initial set of comments were submitted February 13. CDT is skeptical of the FCC’s jurisdiction to regulate the details of ISPs’ network management practices, and our comments caution the agency against launching an effort to write formal rules. At the same time, CDT believes some kinds of network management practices are suspect and could indeed give the ISP increased gatekeeper control. We’re not talking here about practices aimed at fighting spam, malware, or security threats — as yesterday’s comments emphasize, that’s a different category of activity and it really should be considered separately. For traffic management aimed at dealing with congestion and “bandwidth hogs,” however, certain principles are important. This kind of traffic management should apply evenly to all traffic, based on objective criteria; should be clearly disclosed; and should comply with core internetworking standards. While CDT doesn’t want to see the FCC adopt formal rules, our comments to the agency suggest that it provide some principle-level guidance — for example, by adding the concept of nondiscrimination to its broadband Policy Statement.

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