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Cohen: Profits Behind Net-Neutrality Fight

Companies like Google and Yahoo advocate regulation of broadband-access providers primarily in efforts to protect their profits in a fast-moving and disruptive e-commerce market, a senior Comcast official said in a speech Thursday, according to the text obtained by Multichannel News.

Comcast executive vice president David Cohen said that although net-neutrality proponents claim that Internet regulation is needed to assist “the next Google,” they really intend to stop high-speed-data-network owners like cable and phone companies from making reasonable returns on their heavy capital investments.

“When you cut through the rhetoric, what they want from the federal government is new regulations that would guarantee them below cost-access to the broadband networks that carry most of the Internet content in this country,” Cohen said in a speech to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, is headquartered in Philadelphia.

Joined by Microsoft, and eBay, Google and Yahoo have sought a federal law that would ban high-speed-data-network owners from discriminating against Web-based providers of content, services, and applications. But definitions of discriminatory conduct have varied.

The Federal Communications Commission imposed network-neutrality requirements on AT&T when the company merged with BellSouth last December.

Comcast, along with AT&T and Verizon Communications, has resisted net-neutrality legislation, calling it a cure in search of problem because the FCC has punished only one network owner for discriminatory conduct -- a rural North Carolina-based phone company that had blocked consumer access to Vonage's voice-over-Internet-protocol service.

In his speech, Cohen pointed out that the world of Internet commerce was rife with examples of naked discrimination -- ironically, not by cable and phone companies, but mostly by the same Web superstars that have rallied behind net-neutrality legislation.

Some examples: eBay won’t let consumers pay for auctions using Google Checkout, and Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer 7 browser came loaded with Microsoft’s own MSN search engine, causing Google to cry foul.

“And Google cut a special deal with Dell computers to have its search engines factory-installed, giving it an advantage over its competitors,” Cohen added.

Cohen also pointed out that many high-volume Web sites pay Akamai Technologies, a Cambridge, Mass.-based Internet-content-delivery company, to ensure that their Web surfers can call up data and video services at faster rates than otherwise possible.

“Obviously, that means that the Net is not really ‘neutral’ about the information it carries. And I’m not sure what should be so troubling about that. It’s the marketplace at work,” he added.

“Mr. Cohen's speech is wrong in almost every aspect of his analysis of net neutrality,” Public Knowledge communications director Art Brodsky said. “His biggest omission is that his company -- part of an industry whose rates are increasing faster than inflation -- wants to have control over the delivery of content on the internet. It wants to play favorites and cut deals that would deny some Internet users the benefit of the current Web experience they have in favor of a lesser one.”

Brodsky added, “Net neutrality is about restricting the ability of monopolists to play favorites with a medium everyone needs and uses. Cable refuses to commit to an open Internet.”