Speed-Reading the FCC’s Comcast Order

August 21, 2008

With a disclaimer that we here at Sidecut Reports are not lawyers, we nevertheless offer you our speed-reading analysis of the FCC’s full order in the Comcast-BitTorrent case. While most of the top-level details have been known since the FCC’s Aug. 1 vote, the full order does contain a few nuggets we were able to find that may raise some new hackles — while emphatically supporting our opinion that this order is just the start of Phase II of the network neutrality debate, which should get fully underway in 2009.

While Comcast is busy publicizing its own plans for the future (to delay Internet traffic of heavy users), the most interesting information that we see the FCC’s order providing is its request (on Page 33) for Comcast to disclose exactly what kind of equipment it used in its BitTorrent-related management motions, when it was employed, under what circumstances it was used, how it was configured, and where it was deployed. Like we said earlier, we’re not lawyers but it’s probably not hard to guess that disclosing such a granular level of details about its network operations isn’t high on Comcast’s desired to-do list, and will likely be one area that the cable giant will challenge legally.

Or at least try to keep sealed, should Comcast decide not to challenge the FCC’s order in court. While some knowledgeable folks think that a Comcast appeal is a given, several sources we’ve talked to (none at Comcast) note that getting this particular relatively toothless order overturned may lead to some quick rulemaking next year that gives the FCC much firmer legal ground to police such actions. So is the devil you know better than the one you don’t? Fightin’ Joe Waz, the next steps are up to you.

Reading the order so you don’t have to: Feel free to skip the first 22 pages if you already know what this whole mess is about, and could care less about how the FCC justifies its jurisdiction in the case; that’s how long it takes the commission to set the scene, with lots and lots of footnotes that just make these things so hard to read. On page 23 we finally get to the meat, under the title “Resolving the Dispute.” This is where the FCC gets to rip Comcast’s saying that delaying packets isn’t blocking — “We thus find Comcast’s verbal gymnastics both unpersuasive and beside the point.” Smack!

Page 32 is where the most interesting stuff starts — as in, the Remedy. On page 33 you’ll find the “give us all your info” request, along with the “cease and desist” threats if Comcast doesn’t abide by the FCC’s ruling. (You wonder how the FCC would enforce this — “Mr. Roberts, tear down this coax!“) After that it’s just appendixes and bloviating by the commissioners, as if their words here mean more than their votes. Sidecut Take: Not worth your time.

What is worth reading if you need to know more about net neutrality is our recent report, Net Neutrality Phase II: The Battle of 2009. We promise, no footnotes to make you cry as you try to read. And a fun Top 10 list at the end! Order your copy today.

FCC’s Full Comcast Order is Live

August 20, 2008

Coming in at 67 pages, the full report on the Comcast-BitTorrent order will take some time to read. We’ll offer our take later, but if you want to give it a go yourself, here is the link to the PDF on the FCC’s site.

Public Knowledge wins the race in getting the first “we approve” email message out today, though we are sure others will follow close behind. If you want something shorter to read in the meantime, check out our Top 10 list of net neutrality influencers, which is without a doubt more fun than the FCC’s order.

Rep. Ed Markey on Net Neutrality, and ‘Making Sure We Get Policy Questions Right’

August 6, 2008

As we finish up the editing chores on our coming (now live!) Sidecut Report on net neutrality, we wanted to share with you now an email Q-and-A with Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, while last week’s FCC Comcast ruling was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Sidecut Reports: You have been a passionate advocate for network neutrality for quite some time now. Can you describe what motivated your interest in the topic, and why it became a priority for your office?

Rep. Edward J. Markey: When I was chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet back in the late 1980s, I successfully beat back an FCC proposal that aimed to levy per-minute access charges on enhanced services, such as Prodigy, Compuserve and others. My argument was that rather than subjecting the emerging “information industry” to such fees, policymakers should instead seek ways of nurturing access to such information. Winning that fight is the reason we have flat-rate Internet pricing today and this has helped to make the Internet wildly successful with consumers across the country.

Making sure we get policy questions right helps to allow the geniuses at the edges of the network innovate. Network neutrality is in many ways simply a battle against the certain incumbents’ latest attempts to levy new fees or otherwise constrain innovative new competitors. I’ve spent years actively exploring the future of new media technologies. I’ve been an outspoken advocate of promoting choice and innovation, including minority ownership, diversity and localism, in all areas of telecommunication policy.

I believe that an open, non-discriminatory experience on the Internet continues to be vital for consumers and innovators to reap the benefits of this wildly successful medium. The Internet’s role as an economic and cultural phenomenon must be protected by ensuring that the American people are free from unreasonable discrimination by broadband network providers.

Sidecut Reports: Given the distractions for elected officials in a Presidential election year, why did you decide to introduce legislation this year? Might such legislation have a better chance of passing or have a better chance of reasonable debate at a later time?

Rep. Markey: I offered my legislation, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 (H.R. 5353), now because preserving the openness of the Internet and protecting our global competitiveness is an issue that I believe needs to be front and center in any telecommunications debate, and it obviously helps to educate the public about the issue even as we look to next year for more progress.

Sidecut Reports: While policy and communications are inevitably intertwined, at what level of priority should communications legislation be for voters, given other pressing social and economic issues?

Rep. Markey: Telecommunications policy is critically linked to social and economic issues. The World Wide Web has become indispensable to companies large and small, regardless of whether their commercial aspirations are locally-oriented or of global proportions. Voters recognize that the Internet has no peer in its ability to foster innovation and provide low barriers to entry for new ideas and businesses.

Sidecut Reports: You seem to be in the Congressional lead for using social media tools like YouTube to increase communication between Washington D.C. and the rest of the country. What is the level of technological acceptance among your peers, and how does that affect the debate of issues like network neutrality?

Rep. Markey: For me, the use of new technologies, like YouTube, has enabled me to communicate with my constituents in new and exciting ways. Congress as a whole is increasingly embracing new technologies (beyond just the requisite Blackberry) from Twitter to Second Life. My goal in the Subcommittee is hold hearings to further highlight the benefits of these technologies and important policy questions that need to be resolved.

Rep. Markey’s responses will be part of our upcoming report, along with excerpts from a long string of interviews with top policy execs from AT&T, Google, Verizon and Comcast, along with leaders of top public-policy consumer groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge. For an email note when the report is ready, drop me a line to kaps at sidecutreports.com.