Cable Pushes Back on P2P, Net Neutrality

Cable provides the best broadband experience in America, and don’t you forget it.

And issues like congestion, caused partly by peer-to-peer usage, are best handled by engineers at the private companies that manage the networks, not by FCC rulemakers, National Cable and Telecommunications Association boss Kyle McSlarrow said Thursday.

The issue of net neutrality—the notion that Internet providers should not favor some content over others—has risen anew, although McSlarrow noted that advocates of stricter Internet policies, like House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, never gave up the cause.

In a conference call with reporters, McSlarrow said 5 percent of Internet consumers use from 50 to 90 percent of network resources (depending on the study involved), and most of that traffic uses peer-to-peer networks. This is an engineering challenge to all providers, McSlarrow said, but has been turned into “a theological debate deposited at the door of the FCC.”

He also said broadband technology and rollout is far from its maturity, and government rules that freeze today’s architecture and business models is antithetical to the dynamic culture of the Internet that net neutrality advocates say they value.

“Regulators should exercise some humility,” McSlarrow said. “Especially when it’s not clear there’s a public policy problem.”

For those who think the solution to network congestion is to build more capacity, McSlarrow linked the issue to other obligations imposed on cable by government, such as local carriage obligations for analog, digital and HDTV, leased-access channels, public and educational channels, plus the potential for a carriage mandate of multicast channels.

He said pirated content makes up a significant portion of the excessive traffic, although some content providers say that’s not enough of a reason to give Internet companies the power to restrict content.

“The issue is not whether the government should regulate the Internet but whether there will be effective oversight to prevent a handful of corporate giants from imposing their own version of private regulation to the public’s detriment,” the Los Angeles-based Independent Film & Television Alliance said in a March 14 letter to Motion Picture Association of America CEO Dan Glickman. “Copyright enforcement is crucial to our industry but that cannot be the rationale for abandoning the principles of open and competitive access, which are critical to ensuring a vibrant film industry and diversity of programming.”

“Allowing the Internet to become an exclusive province of a small number of giant companies would inevitably harm the future of independent art and commerce,” the group said.

Wednesday, the FCC called for comment on expanding broadband deployment. (See related NewsByte.) The FCC held a field hearing on network management at Harvard Law School Feb. 25 and has another scheduled April 17 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.