Broadband group: Some P-to-P blocking reasonable

A broadband trade group representative told the U.S. Congress that carriers should be allowed to practice network management and slow P-to-P network access.

Broadband providers are engaging in reasonable network management when they slow their customers' access to P-to-P (peer-to-peer) networks, a representative of the cable industry told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday.

"There is a legitimate issue at times of peak congestion," said Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), a trade group representing cable television and broadband providers. "The vast majority of that traffic is going to be peer-to-peer, and it's not irrelevant that the vast majority of peer-to-peer traffic will, in fact, be pirated content."

One legislator asked McSlarrow whether NCTA member Comcast was engaging in acceptable network management when it decided to slow customer connections to P-to-P protocol BitTorrent, a practice revealed by the Associated Press last October. Comcast has said it slowed BitTorrent traffic during times of peak network use, but U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said last month that Comcast blocking appeared to be widespread.

When cable broadband providers limit subscribers' P-to-P traffic, it is "a reasonable method of not just managing traffic, but more importantly, ensuring that all the other consumers you are serving get a superior experience," McSlarrow told the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

For many broadband providers, a small minority of subscribers using P-to-P services take up most of the bandwidth, McSlarrow said.

McSlarrow's comments came during a subcommittee hearing on the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, a bill that makes net neutrality U.S. policy. The bill says it's U.S. policy to allow Internet users to access the legal content and devices of their choosing and to prevent "unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators."

The bill would also require the FCC start an investigation into whether broadband providers are following net neutrality recommendations and what rules are needed.

McSlarrow and other opponents of the bill said it's unnecessary and could discourage broadband providers from investing in network improvements. There's enough broadband competition in the U.S. to prevent providers from blocking or slowing Web content, and the FCC could take action against discriminatory practices on a case-by-case basis, some Republican members of the subcommittee said.

But McSlarrow, asked if he believes the FCC has the authority to take action against perceived net neutrality violations, said he's not sure. The FCC authority in the area is "ambiguous," he said.

Several witnesses and lawmakers said the bill is needed to protect small organizations and businesses from broadband providers entering into exclusive contracts that would give large retailers or groups access to their networks. Small companies' access to their customers could get cut off if broadband providers give exclusive access or faster speeds to larger e-commerce sites, said Scott Savitz, CEO and founder of Shoebuy.com.

"We rely on consumers having unfettered access to our site and for us to reach consumers whenever and wherever they live," Savitz said. "Without an open and neutral platform on which to innovate ... our business may not have flourished or even begun."

The bill doesn't impose significant new regulations on broadband providers, instead setting broad policy goals and mandating the FCC study, said congressional supporters of the bill, many of them Democrats. The bill would help broadband providers by clarifying that reasonable network management is allowed, said Representative Chip Pickering of Mississippi, one of the few Republican supporters of the legislation.

But new regulation could stifle Internet innovation at a time when there's more broadband competition on the horizon, said Representative Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican. "The [broadband] marketplace has never been more competitive," he said. "Why would we want to mess with success?"

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