03:36 PM

Civil Rights Groups Side With Comcast's Net Neutrality Stance

Comcast has been accused of violating federal regulations regarding "reasonable network management" by jamming users attempting to share files.

Several civil rights groups have joined Comcast in its battle to assert its right to manage network traffic and oppose new network neutrality regulations.

Seven civil rights and civic groups filed comments last week supporting network management, siding with private industry in opposition to network neutrality laws and regulations. The move pits those groups against consumer advocacy organizations that support laws that would ban providers from giving preferential treatment to some Internet content.

"There is nothing more paramount for people of color in the broadband age than free speech and universal service, but we need some honesty in this debate," Harry C. Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, said in a prepared statement. "Content discrimination is a real threat to an open Internet, but so are bandwidth hogs -- particularly those who traffic in illegal, pirated material."

Comcast has been accused of violating federal regulations regarding "reasonable network management" by jamming users attempting to share files via the BitTorrent protocol over its cable modems. The cable operator has asserted its rights, saying it is only managing network traffic.

Net neutrality proponents Free Press and members of the Coalition filed comments (PDF) saying that they don't oppose all network management, just those that involve "discriminatory targeting."

"Our initial filing demonstrated that those who oppose our position don't have a leg to stand on," Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press and lead author of the filing, wrote. "Their responses either painfully misconstrue our arguments or rely on technical-sounding nonsense and father-knows-best claims, which are either irrelevant or invalid. Our reply comments make it clear that the FCC has the evidence and authority to stop Comcast and others from blocking Internet traffic."

Groups that joined the National Black Chamber of Commerce in signing the comments opposing network neutrality legislation and regulation include: the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association, League of Rural Voters, National Black Justice Coalition, National Council of Women's Organizations, and National Congress of Black Women.

"The filing argues that new internet regulations, while well-intended, could create de facto protections for 'bandwidth hogs' at the expense of consumers and civic organizations that depend on affordable broadband service and the widely available Internet fast lanes," the groups explained in a news announcement. "At the same time, these leading civil rights organizations urge the FCC to monitor 'improper' types of bandwidth management that could become a ruse for content discrimination."

E. Faye Williams, national chair of the National Congress of Black Women said that "properly conceived network management" can protect free speech by preventing peer-to-peer traffic from overwhelming the network and slowing connection speeds for other users.

"Likewise, it helps reduce costs for consumers, which is a crucial benefit for many of our households that struggle to afford for broadband services," Williams said. "The question is not whether network management is appropriate -- any rational person would have to believe that it is. The question really is whether the network management technique that a particular provider uses is appropriate."

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