On April 18, 2008, network engineers, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and economic experts gathered at the Dinkelspiel Auditorium in Stanford University to join The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a hearing on the issue of broadband network management practices.
The hearing began with opening remarks from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin as well as his fellow commissioners. At the heart of the hearing was the issue of whether it was necessary to craft mandates that favor an Internet that is open and unregulated by network operators. The arguments revolved around the possibility of either, a controlled network that prevents the unregulated spread of questionable content—such as copyrighted material and pornography— or an open network that limits companies from creating restrictions that unfairly limit users.
The first set of testimonies, veiled under the heading of “Network Management and Consumer Expectation-isms,” began with an introduction from Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig. He argued in favor of an open and neutral Internet architecture, asserting that, an open internet made the massive economic gains of the late 20th century possible. In addition, the burden of proof lies on network operators to demonstrate the benefits of a regulated network.Lessig illustrated the concept of a regulated Internet by asking whether an electrical grid would be any better if it allocated service (electrical supply) based on the device which is plugged in. Additionally, Lessig argued that the lack of a clear policy is the source of the problems today with providers like Comcast.
Rick Carnes of the Songwriters Guild of America expressed concerns that an unmanaged Internet could be equivalent to a network in which piracy is essentially unregulated, but cautioned that a solution must respect privacy while protecting intellectual property rights. He concluded that a regime that prohibits the management of congestion and the filtering of unregulated content would be a “lose/lose” situation for consumers and songwriters alike.Echoing Lessig’s stance, Michele Combs of the Christian Coalition of America observed that the controversy involving cable and Internet provider Comcast, which hindered the use of BitTorrent transfers, utilizes the same techniques which the Chinese government uses to censor the Internet. Combs advocated neutrality because it permits an unbiased communication which allows political groups like the CCA to amplify the voices of those it represents.
He also expressed concerns of having a managed Internet as tool used in political propaganda or similar.In the second part of the hearing, “Consumer Access to Emerging Internet Technologies and Applications,” Barbara van Schewick, an Assistant Professor of Law at Stanford, argue that network management should affect all applications rather than essentially ostracize individual ones, and suggests that issues of bandwidth that are also the reasons behind proposals for a regulated Internet can be resolved in other ways such as volume caps.The batch of testimonies was concluded by Ben Scott of the public interest group Free Press. Scott asserted that an open Internet does not abnegate the potential to prevent piracy and protect children, but merely guards against corporate interference. He further asserted that this is “about every consumer wanting to seek or share information on the Internet,” and that these issues can be handled in other legitimate means outside of application blocking.