A man who wanted to share old music with friends, a representative from the Christian Coalition of America, film and music industry representatives, and a group of angry grandmothers showed up for a hearing on network management practices, but those who manage the networks did not.
The Federal Communications Commission Thursday held its second hearing on network management in recent weeks. The majority of people who spoke at the Stanford University meeting support mandated network neutrality, which would require ISPs to deliver data equally without regard to the source or subject matter.
"Now we face a constitutive choice with the Internet -- a choice between closed networks where the network operators control the user experience and open networks that are controlled by end users," said Michael Copps, one of two commissioners who have spoken in favor of stronger network neutrality measures.
"This is an issue in which you must engage, not just because you are innovators and businesspeople, but because you are citizens," he said. "If I see what's happening accurately, I believe we will have an opportunity, before very long, to decide this issue of Internet freedom."
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has said that the 2005 Telecommunications Act and court decisions are sufficient to support stronger enforcement of network neutrality.
The debate over net neutrality has waxed and waned in the nation's capital for about two years. Most recently, it gained prominence after critics accused Comcast of preventing customers from sharing files through BitTorrent and similar sites. The FCC is investigating Comcast's network management practices. The company has said it managed traffic to preserve bandwidth for less intensive users. It has vowed to improve its network management practices and lead efforts to set industry standards.
Proponents of network neutrality reacted to Comcast's proposals with outrage. They want policymakers to pass laws requiring cable and telecommunications companies to manage traffic in a non-discriminatory way.
They include Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig, a software quality engineer who raised the issue after being unable to share barbershop quartet songs with friends, and Michele Combs, who said the Christian Coalition was upset that Comcast had blocked customers from sharing parts of the Bible over the Internet. Like others supporting stronger network neutrality measures, she said she feared that ISPs could block information in favor of its own content.
Comcast, other ISPs, some FCC commissioners, the U.S. Department of Justice, and other groups oppose network neutrality regulations, saying that they would inhibit competition and stifle innovation.