Top House Republican Scolds FCC for Comcast Reprimand
Dow Jones

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- A day before the Federal Communications Commission is set to formally reprimand cable giant Comcast Corp. (CMCSA, CMCSK) for slowing certain Internet connections, the top House Republican says the action reflects "poor policy judgment" that will "hijack the evolution of the Internet."

In a letter sent Thursday to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the FCC is improperly inserting itself into a self- governing entity. "Congress has intentionally refrained from imposing the heavy hand of government, which is precisely why we have seen such rapid growth in the Internet," the letter said.

The FCC is scheduled to vote Friday on an order telling Comcast to stop throttling Internet traffic to customers using certain video file-sharing services such as BitTorrent. Martin's proposed order would also require Comcast to submit any new network-management techniques to the FCC for approval and to disclose them to consumers.

Consumer advocates consider the FCC's action critical to ensuring undeterred access to the Internet. Without the FCC's action, Internet providers will "want to retain their choke-hold over their networks," said Consumers Union Senior Counsel Christopher Murray.

While open Internet advocates had hoped for a monetary fine against Comcast, Murray said the FCC's citation is an important start. "What was needed was to be able to point to a bottom line. This is the inner limit," he said.

Martin wants the FCC's action against Comcast to put other Internet service providers on notice that they can't single out individual applications when managing traffic and they must fully disclose the limitations of their services. He has also warned that other providers who engage in improper practices can expect fines.

For Republicans such as Boehner and FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, the FCC's move takes away businesses' freedom in managing their networks. When large file transfers started to clog networks, Boehner said, service providers responded by collaborating with the makers of Internet applications that consume a lot of bandwidth.

The FCC's "heavy handed attempts" to regulate those efforts "deter the very broadband investment we need for the Internet to continue growing to meet the increasing demands being placed upon it," Boehner's letter said.

Despite McDowell's protests, Martin is assured that his proposed reprimand will be approved, having secured support from a majority of the five-member commission.

Comcast is expected to challenge the order in court, arguing that the FCC doesn't have the legal authority to cite it. Boehner agreed, saying the FCC appears to be proceeding on "shaky legal and procedural grounds" because it hasn't issued regulations on Internet network management.

Martin maintains that the FCC's action is a legitimate way to address the issue.

-By Fawn Johnson, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9263; fawn.johnson@

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  07-31-08 1543ET
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