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Rhetoric Ramps Up in Advance of FCC's Comcast Vote

On the eve of the Federal Communications Commission's expected vote to find Comcast in violation of its open Internet-access principles, opponents of the decision were ramping up the rhetoric.

House Republican John Boehner (Ohio) wrote FCC chairman Kevin Martin saying that he was poised to impose "massive, unprecedented regulation" on the Internet that would "endanger" innovation, "crushing" the entrepreneurial spirit in its wake

Boehner warned that Martin was on "very shaky" procedural and legal grounds," pointing out that the open-access guidelines are not regulation adopted through a notice and comment period. "You are making not only a poor policy judgment, but a poor legal one, as well," he said.

A spokesman for the chairman had no comment on the letter, but more broadly on the proposed finding against Comcast, he did say that Martin has, tentatively, support from a majority of the commissioners. He added that Martin has said that some network-management practices are necessary in some cases, but that when it is done it should be narrowly tailored to address a specific issue or problem and that any limitations on bandwidth should be fully disclosed to subscribers.

He has also said that broad regulations may not be necessary, and that based on its authority under the Communications Act and upheld by the Supreme Court, it will build an enforcement regime through resolution of these types of complaints on a case-by-case basis.

A complaint was lodged at the FCC that Comcast was blocking uploads by users of BitTorrent's peer-to-peer file-sharing software. Comcast said it was managing heavy-bandwidth users and informed its customers that it might have to do so. But it also agreed to adopt a protocol-agnostic network-management system (one that would not target any particular software).

Elsewhere, the Progress and Freedom Foundation was holding a press conference to warn of the need for network management to handle an exponential growth in 'Net traffic.

Responding to the Boehner letter, Public Knowledge, which also complained about Comcast, shot back. "The FCC’s action is in no way 'heavy-handed,' as Leader Boehner put it," Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said. "It is, rather, a return to the principles of open competition and nondiscrimination that have been a part of communications law in this country for more than 70 years."