February 29, 2008 | By Fred von Lohmann

EFF to FCC: "Reasonable Network Management" Requires Transparency

In response to the FCC's inquiry into Comcast's interference with BitTorrent traffic, EFF filed comments yesterday urging the FCC to make it clear that ISPs must, at a minimum, adequately disclose their "network management" practices before they can hide behind the excuse of "reasonable network management."

The FCC has invited public comments regarding the Comcast BitTorrent blocking affair in response to two petitions: one filed by Vuze (formerly Azureus) and another filed by the Media Access Project, FreePress and Public Knowledge. (The recent public hearing in Boston, in which Comcast paid people to fill seats, was also part of this same proceeding.)

The central question in the proceeding is whether Comcast has violated the four neutrality principles set out in the FCC's Internet Policy Statement. It seems clear that Comcast's protocol-specific interference with BitTorrent traffic violates those neutrality principles. In response, Comcast (and other ISPs) have offered the excuse that it was all "reasonable network management" -- a catch-all exception to the FCC's neutrality principles.

In its comments to the FCC, EFF urges the agency to clarify that the "reasonable network management" exception to its neutrality principles should only apply where an ISP has adequately disclosed the existence and likely consequence to customers of its discriminatory practices. After all, if we believe that market forces are our first line of defense against unreasonable ISP behavior, those forces can only work if customers, competitors, innovators, and policy-makers know what the ISPs are up to. On that score, Comcast has obviously fallen short, issuing a series of denials, evasions, and half-truths for 10 months after its own customers caught them interfering with BitTorrent traffic. The FCC needs to send a message to Comcast and other ISPs that this is unacceptable.


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