Martin: No New Net Neutrality Rules Needed

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee haggled Tuesday over the behavior of Internet service providers as some pushed the Internet Freedom Act, sponsored by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to prevent ISPs from discriminating against content.

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said he opposed ISP blockage of lawful net activity but that he didn’t need any more tools from Congress.

“‘The commission has continued to monitor the marketplace, has been vigilant about it, has tried to continue to make sure that we are enforcing the net neutrality principles to make sure that consumers aren’t having access blocked,’” Martin said in a statement after the hearing, quoting his previous statements.

Supporters of so-called “net neutrality” maintain that recent conduct of ISPs—namely Comcast’s interference of BitTorrent activity—highlights the need for rules to preserve the open nature of the Internet.

Michele Combs, vice president for communications of the Christian Coalition of America, blasted Comcast for hiding behind the issue of illegal materials, and for using the same technology to block Internet traffic, she said, as the Chinese government uses to block the distribution of Christian Coalition materials in that country.

“Let’s remember, it was the King James Bible that Comcast blocked,” she said, referring to the document used by the Associated Press in its tests of peer-to-peer service.

Senators from the Republican side of the table, as well as National Cable and Telecommunications Association boss Kyle McSlarrow and a scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, pushed back on the net neutrality notion, arguing that the marketplace will be able to deliver what consumers want.

Sen. John Sununu argued that instead of predicting marketplace and industry activity, Congress should wait until abuses appear and then respond.

“Writing regulations based on how we think companies might behave and how we predict customers might act in response to that behavior is dangerous indeed,” he said.

Dr. Robert Hahn, executive director of the Center for Regulatory and Market Studies at AEI, compared the Dorgan-Snowe proposal to trying to tell Google (he used the hypothetical company “Oogle”) how much it could charge for its click-through ads. Stanford Professor Lawrence Lessig explained later to the doctor that net neutrality applied to the conduct of ISPs, not content providers, and that the legislation would not affect what Web content providers could do with their own businesses.