Civil rights groups: FCC should allow network management

A coalition of civil right groups says no to net neutrality rules.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission should allow broadband providers to manage their networks and slow "bandwidth hogs," despite concerns that such practices arbitrarily target some customers, said a coalition of seven civil rights groups.

Net neutrality rules for broadband providers would protect bandwidth hogs at the expense of other customers and civic organizations, said the coalition, which includes the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association, League of Rural Voters and National Council of Women's Organizations.

The coalition filed comments with the FCC Thursday in the agency's inquiry into Comcast's slowing of some P-to-P (peer-to-peer) traffic. "Regulations prohibiting network management risk undermining free speech on the Internet by allowing P2P traffic to overwhelm the network and prevent non-P2P traffic from reaching its destination," the coalition said in its filing. "The effective prioritization of P2P traffic would represent an altogether new type of 'back of the bus' second-class status for our speech on broadband networks -- and ought to be resoundingly rejected."

That position puts the civil rights groups at odds with several consumer rights groups, including Public Knowledge and Free Press, which have called for the FCC to stop Comcast from slowing some Internet traffic. Those groups, among a coalition of consumer rights groups that filed a complaint against Comcast in November, submitted their own comments late Thursday, saying opponents of their argument have misrepresented them.

The consumer groups don't want all network management outlawed, just discriminatory targeting, they said. Opponents of their petition "don't have a leg to stand on," the new consumer groups' filing said. "All of their responses either painfully misconstrue our arguments or rely on technical-sounding nonsense and 'father-knows-best' claims, which are either irrelevant or invalid."

The FCC can act against network discrimination on a case-by-case basis, the consumer groups said. "We are asking, simply, that the FCC clarify what should already be obvious from FCC and congressional precedent and policy: when network providers discriminate against, delay, degrade, or block particular applications of a consumer's choice, the network providers violate [FCC policy] and should be punished," the groups said in their new filing.

The controversy over Comcast's network management erupted late last year after press reports that the cable provider slowed BitTorrent traffic. The company has said it engages in "reasonable network management ... necessary for the good of all customers."

While the consumer groups repeated their calls for a stronger net neutrality policy at the FCC, the coalition of civil rights groups suggested a few bandwidth hogs could clog broadband networks if providers aren't allow to manage their networks.

"We need some honesty in this debate," Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. "Content discrimination is a real threat to an open Internet, but so are bandwidth hogs -- particularly those who traffic in illegal, pirated material. Bandwidth management can be objectionable if it is aimed at censoring certain content, but it is in the consumer's interest if it is aimed at preserving bandwidth for consumers that pay for it."

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