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Martin Eyes June Wrap for Network-Management Issues

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said he wants to wrap up the FCC's consideration of network-management complaints by June.

Martin told a Stanford Law School Legal Futures conference Friday that he wanted to "respond quickly" to the complaints, pointing out that they had been filed at the end of last year and that the FCC already held a hearing in February (coincidentally also at a prestigious law school, Harvard).

Martin also emphasized, as he has before, that his focus would be on disclosure. While he conceded that there are legitimate network-management techniques, he said transparency should be the watchword.

Critical to gauging the reasonableness of network management, he added, is whether an operator has informed application developers of when and how their applications could be affected by that management and making sure consumers are adequately informed of the repercussions of their broadband service.

Another key factor, he said, is whether or not a particular application was being singled out or whether the network practice applied generally.

He said he was not speaking specifically to any complaint, although the Comcast complaint involved the above three issues.

But he did say, when asked by a questioner, that the reason why Comcast was more the focus of that Feb. 25 Harvard network-neutrality hearing was that while a complaint was filed against Verizon Communications for e-mail blocking, Verizon immediately said it was a mistake and would not happen again, while Comcast maintained that its management of BitTorrent peer-to-peer traffic was reasonable and that at least the potential for it was disclosed to customers.

Martin also framed the network-neutrality issue in international terms, saying that network mismanagement could hurt the image of a Democratic Internet that the U.S wants to show to the world.

In his speech, Martin positioned himself as seeking a middle ground on the commission between the Democratic extremes of explicit network-nondiscrimination requirements and his Republican colleagues, whom, he added, see no need to intervene in the marketplace.

The challenge, he said, will be finding the balance between making sure the FCC steps out of the way of a marketplace delivering choice and innovation and recognizing government's role in acting to achieve broader social goals, like public safety or consumer protection, if network operators are violating the FCC's open-access principles.

Martin appeared to echo a speech the night before in Washington, D.C., by his mentor and a former FCC chairman himself, Richard Wiley, who told a Radio-Television News Directors Foundation First Amendment dinner crowd that his goal was “less regulation for those who fulfilled the public trust but more oversight of those few who didn't."