Those sentiments were echoed later in the day at a panel discussing government issues, where a chief legal staffer on the House Energy & Commerce committee said that members of that committee are "very concerned" about incidents like the recent port-blocking case involving Vonage and Madison River Communications, and that upcoming telecom reform legislation might include specific wording prohibiting the practice.
According to Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft who is now chairman and the largest shareholder of Charter Communications, and Thomas Rutledge, chief operating officer of Cablevision, their companies shouldn't have to worry about violating any such law. Rutledge dismissed the idea of selectively blocking services out of hand, even though players like Vonage might compete with Cablevision's own VoIP offering.
"If you look at our high-speed network, Yahoo's on it, Google's on it, AOL's on it and voice is on it," Rutledge said in an interview after Sunday's keynote panel discussion. "Our customers expect to access to the sites our network enables them to have, and the applications that they're able to reach. For us to do anything otherwise would be against our economic interest."
Kyle McSlarrow, the newly minted president and CEO of the NCTA, said cable-company CEOs he has talked to since he's been on the job are "absolutely" against selective blocking of Internet services or applications.
"We believe we [the cable industry] drive enormous value in our relationship with customers from high-speed Internet service," McSlarrow said. Much of that value, he said, is derived by allowing users to "go anywhere they want, to do anything they want."
While Allen did say that cable providers "reserve the right" to negotiate the passage of potentially harmful traffic, he said he "hasn't heard anything" about Charter blocking independent VoIP service providers, and said such actions could draw the wrath of regulators and lawmakers.
"I think if you got into a situation where providers were blocking the usage of different kinds of broadband services, that would definitely raise issues that could be very controversial," Allen said.
Just in case the cable magnates change their minds, Congress may be ready to counter with actual law prohibiting blocking or even squeezing of independent services and applications by service providers. According to Howard Waltzman, chief counsel on telecommunications for the House Energy & Commerce committee, "a lot of [committee] members believe that consumers should have the right to access whatever Web sites or services they want." Blocking or even degradation of independent services, Waltzman said, "just should be absolutely prohibited."
When asked if there was a sense of urgency on the committee to get legislation passed ensuring the ideas of "net neutrality," Waltzman said there was.
"I think there is uncertainty, especially with new services put on the market every day," Waltzman said. Though the trend in the current administration is toward less regulation of telecom, Waltzman said "we don't want things like that [blocking] to be permitted." There should be "very clear legislation" to prevent it, he said.