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FCC Snubs Net Neutrality

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin Martin has declared that network neutrality regulations aren't necessary. But the agency has not completed its investigation of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which has been under significant public pressure for its handling of peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic.

Martin's written statements were released Tuesday, and he also shared his views during a U.S. Senate hearing titled "The Future of the Internet."

"I do not believe any additional regulations are needed at this time," Martin said, adding it is "critical" that service operators "adequately disclose" their network management practices and the tools they use to implement them.

Martin's opinions follow two high-profile FCC en banc hearings on the topic -- one held at Harvard University and another, more recently, at Stanford University. (See FCC Mulling New Internet Rules and Net Neutrality Gets Its Hearing.)

Martin also said it was "appropriate" for the FCC to adopt and enforce the agency's Internet Policy Statement.

"Indeed, on several occasions, the entire Commission has reiterated that it has the authority and will enforce these current principles." he said, pointing out that the FCC ordered Madison River Communications , a telco, to stop blocking third-party VOIP services that ride on high-speed Internet lines. The FCC delivered that consent decree in March 2005, when Michael Powell served as Commission chairman. (See Vonage Victorious in Blocking Case.)

"For the Commission to take enforcement action against a telephone company for blocking and degrading a particular application, but refuse to pursue enforcement action against a cable company blocking or degrading a particular application, would unfairly favor the cable industry," Martin said.

Comcast's Case
And, speaking of the cable industry, Martin did address the nation's largest cable operator, which has been accused of throttling P2P applications, but has since announced plans to migrate to a "protocol-agnostic" capacity management system by year-end. (See Comcast Caves In to P2P Pressure.) Comcast and Pando Networks Inc. are also trying to drum up support for a P2P "Bill of Rights and Responsibilities." (See Comcast, Pando Crafting 'P2P Bill of Rights' .)

Martin said the FCC is still investigating the complaints against Comcast, "and we have not yet determined whether the actions violated our principles protecting consumer access to the Internet."

In other testimony Tuesday, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow called for a hands-off approach.

"Government intervention in broadband network management would only slow the pace of innovation and prevent the natural development of traffic solutions that is already occurring today," he said. "Depriving network operators of certain bandwidth management tools only makes the networks less efficient for everyone."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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