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NCTA: We'll Assist FCC In Understanding Peering

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was getting some support from the Hill and elsewhere, including the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, for his announcement Friday (June 13) of a deep dive into paid peering arrangements--he said the FCC already had the agreements from the Netflix/Comcast and Netflix/Verizon deals that have drawn complaints, including from Netflix.

“We agree with Chairman Wheeler that Internet interconnection and peering issues are not net neutrality issues," said NCTA, focusing on Wheeler's statement that peering was a "cousin" to net neutrality. "We look forward to assisting the Commission in better understanding this vibrant, competitive marketplace.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Communications Subcommittee said she welcomed the news, saying interconnection agreements are "a key aspect of connectivity that allows the Internet to serve as the platform for innovation and investment we know today."

But she signaled the inquiry was only the beginning of the process.

"In the midst of the net neutrality debate," she added, "It is reassuring that the Commission recognizes that net neutrality is only one aspect of the Internet ecosystem, and that in order to ensure openness and competition, the connection between broadband and content providers is equally important. This examination is a crucial first step to educate the Commission and the public about complex delivery systems for Internet traffic and ensure transparency and fairness endure even as technologies evolve and expand.”

Wheeler did not say what the end game was for the inquiry, beyond answering the question of the impact of paid peering on the consumer and Internet openness. But he did say the data collection--Wheeler is a big fan of collecting data--would extend to a range of content providers--like Google--and ISPs.

"The FCC’s action to look at the peering relationships between major Internet market participants is welcome and long overdue," said Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America, suggesting that it had not been an option. "As CFA pointed out in comments in both the IP transition and the Open Internet dockets, interconnection on reasonable and nondiscriminatory rates, terms and conditions is one of the core public service principles of U.S. communications policy, a principle that grows more important as digital communications networks become dominant. 

"The FCC would be derelict in its duties if it did not examine the facts underlying disputed high speed data interconnection that affects tens of millions of broadband users," he said. "Whether or not the FCC takes any specific action in any specific dispute, gathering this data will inform its decision making in its broader efforts to write an effective Open Internet order that prevents the abuse of market power and preserves the dynamic openness of the Internet."

“COMPTEL commends the Chairman for the initiation of an inquiry into the Internet traffic exchange practices of broadband Internet access providers and other networks and services," said Comptel CEO Chip Pickering. "Consumers should receive the Internet services they pay for, and it is appropriate for the Commission to review the marketplace when that is not happening.

"We believe it is critical to recognize, however, that access to an Open Internet is dependent on Internet traffic exchange practices. Thus, the Commission’s review should be used to inform the Open Internet proceeding, and the Commission should address any harmful Internet traffic exchange practices in that proceeding."

“Today’s announcement underscores that the Commission is attentive to the concerns that many commenters have already noted," said Sarah Morris, senior policy counsel for the Open Technology Institute at New America. "We hope that this action indicates a willingness by the Chairman to broaden the scope of the proposed Open Internet Rules to include protections against the full breadth of consumer harms identified in the proceeding.

“Transparency is a cornerstone of sound public policy. However, when transparency reveals harmful behavior, the Commission should step in to fix the underlying problem. Today’s announcement is therefore a step in the right direction but more work is needed as to address problems that negatively affect the end-user experience."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.