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Hands Off the Internet Points Finger at Comcast

The Hands Off the Internet coalition told Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin he doesn't have to keep his hands off Comcast.

In a letter to the chairman Wednesday, the coalition -- which includes AT&T, itself a target of complaints over the issue -- said the FCC has the authority to investigate Comcast.

The nation's largest cable company was accused in an AP story of "actively interfering" with peer-to-peer file sharing over BitTorrent. Comcast said it didn't, but the cable operator conceded that it took network-management steps with a fraction of users whose extreme bandwidth use could negatively impact its other residential customers.

But rather than a call for more government regulation (it's not called the "Hands On" coalition, after all), the group is looking to head off such calls by pointing out that the FCC already has plenty of authority to go after companies that violate its open-access principles. It adopted those when it ruled that broadband service was an information service, not a telecommunications service and, hence, not subject to mandatory open-access requirements.

Tending toward the dramatic, the letter said: "Comcast stands accused of violating the FCC’s four principles. The company has responded by offering the rationale for the actions it took. Now the ball is in your court."

The coalition said the FCC "must determine if any of its four [open-access] principles have in fact been violated. If not, and the process has been fair and open, then so be it. If after reviewing the facts, the FCC determines that the company has been in violation, then the FCC must determine the remedy. With both outcomes, the process works and the integrity of the four principles are intact.”

"AT&T's front group calling out Comcast is like Exxon calling out Texaco," said in a statement. e-mailed to B&C. "They're competitors and they all have policies that hurt the public. If AT&T really wants to make news, they should demand an investigation into their own censorship of Pearl Jam's online political speech, their own policies threatening to shut down AT&T Internet customers who criticize AT&T, and Verizon's censorship of NARAL's text messages." 

Free Press last week filed a complaint with the FCC asking it to step in and take action against Comcast. At the time, Comcast executive vice president David Cohen said: "Comcast does not, has not and will not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services, and no one has demonstrated otherwise. We engage in reasonable network management to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience, and we do so consistently with FCC policy.”

He continued, "As the FCC noted in its policy statement in 2005, all of the principles to encourage broadband deployment and preserve the nature of the Internet are 'subject to reasonable network management.' The commission clearly recognized that network management is necessary by ISPs [Internet-service providers] for the good of all customers."