Martin on Neutrality (Again)

8 Jan ’06

The Register covered the issue of neutrality yesterday with some observations about the FCC’s position, taken from comments of Chairman Martin at CES. Curiously, the Register seems to be certain that the FCC is clearly pro-neutrality:

As the paper [the WSJ, in its recent front page article on neutrality] notes, the telecommunications companies have traditionally used a “best efforts” policy to move internet traffic as quickly as they can regardless of the type of data. Now, however, as increased broadband usage has made movie, music and other content services more feasible, the telcos want to cash in on the shift.

Based on today’s comments, the FCC looks ready to challenge the telcos on this front. It should be a great battle.

But Martin’s reported comments belie that confidence:

What you may not be familiar with is the FCC’s intense fear that media companies or the telephone companies will wall off content and internet services from certain classes of customers. While not perfectly clear about the issue at hand, Martin seems to think the internet will be divided up and with different classes of content walled off from consumers.

“(I would) be concerned if you talked about network providers blocking access to content that consumers want,” he said.

Service providers should be free to charge different amounts for varying bandwidth, but they should not be allowed to cordon off content from consumers, Martin said.

I’m not taking a lot of comfort from comments that suggest the FCC would draw the line only at blocking access. There can surely be no controversy about that position. Martin’s comments about varying bandwidth are too (certainly, intentionally) ambiguous to allow any conclusions about what he really means.

More to the point, I’m becoming increasingly concerned that these important policy decisions will be in the hands of a political appointee (loyal Bush-Cheney campaign worker), in the style of FEMA ex-Director Michael “You’re Doing a Heck of a Job, Brownie” Brown, who appears to be all of 12 years old.


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