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FCC At Center Of Net, Media Controversy

Net neutrality, media consolidation need to be addressed

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[ Technology]

Net neutrality concepts, and media ownership rules, have the Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Kevin Martin, at the epicenter of how people will get the content they want.

The FCC has had a rough start to the New Year. A long simmering issue over Internet traffic-shaping practices by Comcast has bubbled into an FCC investigation.

But Martin and the FCC itself will be investigated as well. The House Energy & Commerce Committee isn’t pleased with the FCC’s relaxing of media ownership rules, nor the process with which Martin has pushed through those corporate-friendly rules.

In December, the FCC voted to allow media companies to own newspapers and broadcast companies in the twenty biggest cities in the US. Reuters cited Martin’s contention that the ruling “may help to forestall the erosion in local news coverage.”

Homogenized ownership of broadcast media has been a fixture in broadcasting for some time. It’s common for one company, like Clear Channel, to own multiple radio stations in a single city. The Senate and the House aren’t happy with the FCC’s ruling.

While the House prepares to grill Martin, the FCC plans to take a long-overdue look at Comcast. In August 2007, Consumerist and other sites noted Comcast interfering with BitTorrent traffic, a move the provider later claimed was to improve overall network performance.

Comcast has long said they do not block traffic, but an AP report from October 2007 proved the company does interfere with torrents. An AP report cited Martin’s commenting at CES 2008, where he confirmed an investigation into the traffic shaping practice.

The issue of net neutrality will accompany that inquiry. By traffic shaping, Comcast gives some traffic priority over other transmissions on its broadband network. If the FCC finds no problems with that traffic shaping, regulations requiring a protocol-agnostic approach to providing service will be needed to ensure a uniform experience for consumers.

FCC At Center Of Net, Media Controversy
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