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Sound Bites From The Comcast Hearing

It's hard out here for a shill

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Yesterday’s FCC "hearing" to discuss Comcast’s interference with BitTorrent traffic was more "dogpile on the cable shill." Comcast chose executive VP David Cohen as the bullet-catcher/gauntlet-runner/sacrificial lamb, and Verizon sent its own executive VP, Tom Tauke, presumably for moral support.

Comcast Logo Comcast Logo
(Photo Credit: Comcast)

Which he’s apparently not very good at. The only thing Tauke really had to say about it was that telecoms had no need to implement a filtering system like the one Comcast used. "Cable has an architecture where users in the neighborhood share a network. That is not true in the architecture that we have used to develop our network."

In other words, cable sucks and you should switch to Verizon anyway. You can’t really blame Tauke. This wasn’t Verizon’s Net Neutrality hearing, and it was relatively clear from the outset that Cohen was a fox up a tree. He indicated as much with his opening remarks: "It’s a pleasure to be here as a participant and hopefully not as the main course for your meal."

And who wouldn’t be nervous? Cohen had to stare down an FCC that was at least stink-eyed suspicious if not outright gaping-mouth appalled at what Comcast had done. Turning his head only brought angry stares from first-class Ivy League law professors busy sharpening their rhetoric for their turn to speak.

At the end of Mr. Cohen’s (presumably sweaty) day, the FCC will still have to think about it, but is pretty darn certain the agency is good enough and smart enough to handle it appropriately. Chairman Kevin Martin decided over Cohen’s objections that the FCC had the authority to penalize Comcast and was "ready, willing, and able" to do so. "It seems important that," he concluded, "for any of these practices to be reasonable, they be conducted in an open and transparent way."

Even with that transparency, Martin didn’t think that it gave them carte blanche. "While networks may have reasonable practices, they obviously cannot operate without taking some reasonable steps, but that does not mean they can arbitrarily block access to certain services.”

Other government representatives were present and ready to shove Cohen around. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a Net Neutrality champion in Congress who recently introduced The Internet Freedom Preservation Act, came prepared with up-to-the-minute contemporary remarks, formed fresh the droppings of the Academy Awards the night before.

"We want to look back years from now and look back and be able to celebrate that this is no country for old bandwidths," he said. Markey then added that the FCC should not allow the "transformation of BitTorren into BitTrickle."
 

Somewhere, racecar driver Dick Trickle raised his head and asked, "Somebody call me?"

Quotes From the Hearing
Starting with who had to talk the most

Comcast’s David Cohen:

"What we are doing is a limited form of network management objectively based upon an excessive bandwidth-consumptive protocol during limited periods of network congestion."

Excessive bandwidth, critics point out, isn’t exactly spelled out when customers sign up for Comcast’s "unlimited" services.

"We are crystal clear to our customers what we are doing."—Citing an FAQ.

"My understanding is that the delaying that was occurring was not blocking and not degrading the P2P service when it is used the way it is designed to be used."

The "that depends on what your definition of ‘ is’ is" argument worked for Bill Clinton, right? You say "blocking and degrading," I say "delaying and managing." 

"Don’t listen to the rhetoric. Every network must be managed or no network would function. Peer-to-peer services, during a time of network congestion, create a degradation of our service to our other customers, which is a violation of our acceptable terms of use."

To which the telecoms repeat, "Sucks to be you. Anybody interested in fiber?"

Chairman Kevin Martin, who serves as the swing-vote on the issue:

"Cable argued that consumers are actually getting a better deal because they’re getting more channels … and doing more of something, it’s good." He called it "a little odd" that Comcast "blocks them because they’re using too much."

The good news for aspiring legal eagles, Martin presumably passed his LSATs.

Timothy Wu, Professor of Law at Columbia University and coiner of the phrase "Net Neutrality":

“[Martin] thinks that it’s a consumer rights issue. Whether that is a principle for the ages or principle for the case we don’t know, but he certainly sent a message.”

"There is a single fact Comcast cannot deny. The AP and EFF sought to use an application a certain way and were blocked. Comcast shouldn’t be telling people how to use applications." –referring to the testing done by both organizations that showed Comcast was interfering with BitTorrent users.

"Whatever we think reasonable network management is, it should not include blocking legal services." With no Net Neutrality protections, " the technology of censorship is being built into the system."

"We don’t want America to become a place that has a reputation for having a closed or filtered internet. We should be a role model for what an open internet looks like. What happens here will be followed everywhere."

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps:

“The time has come for a specific enforceable principle of nondiscrimination. This principle should allow for reasonable network management, but make crystal clear that broadband network operators cannot shackle the promise of the Internet. Our job is to figure out where you draw the line between unreasonable discrimination and reasonable network management.”

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein:

"Consumers don’t want the Internet to be another version of old media, dominated by a handful of media giants."

Sources:

http://www.news.com/8301-10784_3-9878330-7.html?tag=nefd.lede

http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/daily-brief/2008/02/25/fcc-warns-comcast-over-web-blocking

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/26/technology/26fcc.html?_r=2&ex=1361768400&en=9fcb0f768ec417c9&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/feb2008/tc20080225_498413.htm

http://www.freepress.net/news/30734

http://www.freepress.net/news/30649    

http://www.freepress.net/news/30726

http://www.freepress.net/news/30731

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2269843,00.asp   
 

Sound Bites From The Comcast Hearing
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  • Guest

    David Cohen works for Comcast, not Verizon as noted in the quotes from the hearing listed above

    • Jason Lee Miller

      I knew that, really. :-) Thanks for pointing out the oversight.

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  • Guest
  • Douglas Bamlett

    I”m all for neutrality — that is I don’t want anyone blocking the destinations I choose to visit — or unreasonably slowing me down. However I’ve always been aware that people who want more bandwidth can buy it if they are willing to pay for it.

    In a sense Bitorrent is an access protocol and when you buy bandwidth you purchase access to the pipes out there. However networks are dimensioned based on shared resources. Clearly Comcast as well as other ISP’s dimensioned their networks with ratios somewhere in the 30:1 range if they are like most ISP’s. That means that 30 users of a particular access speed are sharing the bandwidth they purhcased — unless they bought guaranteed bandwidth — which is uncommon among retail users.

    Along comes Bitorrent which gives users to the ability fill the queue with requests for a constant stream of data that maxes out the bandwidth they purchased and does it in ways that allows Bitorrent to dominate the shared data. Also the user can just walk away and let that baby pump data at rates that are much higher than anyone anticipated — effectively putting them into a class of bandwidth usage that is much higher than was ever calculated when the ISP dimensioned the network. Effectively this means that users who do not use Bitorrent or use it in very limited ways are losing performance due to the heavy data users with the Bitorrent clients.

    That also means that the ISP has to either buy more bandwidth, charge higher rates, or both in order to bring performance up to expected levels. It is just a matter of who pays for it. Either you continue to get non bitorrent customers to subsidize the BT users or you raise the monthly fee to bitorrent users — or you slow down the greedy bitorrent requests. This has absolutely nothing to do with censorship because it does not limit access to destinations nor filter content out. It slows down whatever the BT user is requesting in order to even out the data flow to provide more balanced service to its user base.

    It all boils down to "someone has to pay for the increased demand for resources". One group is screaming censorship (falsely) in order to protect the sweet deal they have which requires low volume users to pay for the extra bandwidth consumption. Frankly I think that BT client users should either accept that they will have to have a bit slower service with their BT client during peak congestion OR they should have to pay a bit extra for the privilege of max speed at all times.

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