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NBC Universal, MPAA Weigh In on Network Management

Content producers were weighing in at the Federal Communications Commission Thursday and Friday in the agency's ongoing inquiry into network-management practices. They want to make sure the FCC does not tie networks’ hands when it comes to managing the bandwidth-heavy traffic that includes their increasing online-video efforts.

In their filings, both NBC Universal and the Motion Picture Association of America focused on piracy, with NBCU saying that 90% of the peer-to-peer traffic that has been the subject of network blocking complaints is illegal content.

"The 800-pound gorilla in the room," NBCU said, is the "tidal wave of unlawful conduct by BitTorrent users to the clear detriment of the majority of consumers." NBCU has been a leader in the battle to protect copyrighted content from piracy.

"Allowing Internet-service providers to address capacity and piracy abuses is the best way of providing consumers with a dynamic, content-rich broadband experience," the MPAA said in its filing at the commission.

NBCU said it has lots of legal video it is delivering to a growing consumer base, but its efforts could be "derailed" if operators are not allowed to manage the congestion created by the "staggering levels of copyright-infringing music and video file-sharing that indisputably congest the Internet."

Neither NBCU nor the MPAA want the FCC or Congress to mandate network neutrality, fearing that it would mean networks would not be able to employ copy-protection filtering techniques.

The FCC held a hearing earlier this week at Harvard Law School where the commissioners heard from peer-to-peer executives, academics and network representatives as it tries to figure out what it means by "reasonable network management."

The commission has guidelines warning against blocking online access to applications or content, with a carve-out for reasonable network management. But what that constitutes and whether network management by companies like Comcast is reasonable or not has become a big issue.

The agency opened inquiries into complaints of P2P file and e-mail blocking against Comcast and Verizon Communications, as well as a more general inquiry into network management.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin expressed concern about possible content blocking by Comcast, but he said network management is also important, adding that the key is transparency -- letting customers know what you are doing and why.

Martin added that he thinks the FCC has the authority to crack down on any companies it concludes are blocking content or applications or not engaging in “reasonable network management,” as soon as the agency figures out what that is, of course.