Comcast in the Hot Seat at FCC Internet Hearing

by Chris Sturr | February 21, 2008

Legal scholars, technology experts, entrepreneurs make the case for an open Internet

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On Monday, Comcast will be scrutinized by the Federal Communications Commission at a public hearing about the policies that will shape the future of the Internet. The Cambridge event will feature testimony from legal scholars, technology experts, entrepreneurs and industry representatives as part of the FCC’s ongoing investigation into the blocking of legal content by the cable giant and other Internet service providers.

WHAT: A Public Hearing on the Future of the Internet
DATE: Monday, Feb 25, 2008
TIME: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
WHERE: Harvard Law School, Ames Courtroom, Austin Hall
1515 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Mass.

The SavetheInternet.com Coalition will be recording public testimony outside the hearing throughout the day.

In January, the FCC launched an official inquiry in response to a complaint filed by Free Press and members of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition — as well as thousands of letters from concerned citizens. The Associated Press first exposed Comcast last fall for actively interfering with peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. The company argues the FCC has no authority to prevent it from blocking Internet traffic on its networks.

Comcast and other big phone and cable companies have been lobbying to kill Net Neutrality — the longstanding principle that prevents them from discriminating against Web sites or services based on their source, ownership or destination. Last week, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) introduced the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act” (HR 5353) — landmark legislation that firmly establishes baseline consumer protections in communications law to ensure the Internet is open and free from discrimination.

“The value of the Internet comes from the millions of people and businesses who use it,” said Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press and lead author of the complaint that spurred the FCC’s investigation. “We can’t let the narrow interests of Comcast or any other network providers short-circuit the Internet’s limitless economic and social possibilities. With stakes so high, the FCC must act quickly to shut down anti-competitive and discriminatory actions that put the open Internet in jeopardy.”

The hearing will open with statements from all five FCC Commissioners, followed by a policy panel, where Ammori and renowned legal scholars Tim Wu of Columbia Law School and Yochai Benkler of Harvard Law School will square off against representatives from Comcast and Verizon.

“What we’re going to see on Monday is a trial of the Internet,” said Wu, who coined the term “Net Neutrality.” “Comcast is in the docket, accused of crimes against the public interest, and we’ll see how well they are able to defend themselves.”

The second panel will delve into the technological aspects of Internet traffic. It will feature, among others, several experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Scott Smyers of Sony Electronics; and Eric Klinker, chief technology officer of BitTorrent — developer of the innovative file-sharing service targeted by Comcast.

Vuze Inc. — which filed its own complaint against Comcast with the FCC — will demonstrate its technology for sharing high-definition video prior to the first panel. Outside the hearing, there will be a “technology fair” where online innovators will show off their products and services.

“Now is the time to establish rules and regulations that will enable the evolution of the Internet,” said Gilles BianRosa, CEO of Vuze. “A few powerful companies control the bandwidth through which consumers access Internet content, and through which innovative companies like ours deliver services. We support building an open Internet that fosters innovation for all.”

In addition to testimony from experts in the field, the FCC has invited the public to share opinions for the official record. The SavetheInternet.com Coalition will be recording public testimony outside the hearing throughout the day. And consumers across the country unable to attend the hearing are invited to record and upload their testimonial videos to www.vuze.com.

Both the testimony recorded outside the hearing and the videos uploaded to the “FCC Channel” on Vuze will be submitted as a part of the official public record in this hearing.

Experts are available for interviews prior to the hearing. To schedule an interview, contact Craig Aaron of Free Press at (202) 265-1490, x25 or caaron -at- freepress.net.

View the FCC’s official announcement and agenda here.

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The SavetheInternet.com Coalition is a grassroots, nonpartisan alliance of hundreds of groups, thousands of bloggers, and more than 1.6 million concerned Americans who have joined together to protect Internet freedom and Network Neutrality. No corporation or political party funds the coalition. Statements by the SavetheInternet.com Coalition are not necessarily endorsed by every participating organization. Learn more at www.SavetheInternet.com

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