Group Puts Broadband Providers on Net Neutrality Watch

The Net Neutrality Squad will keep an eye out for ISPs that interfere with the free flow of Internet traffic.

The network neutrality issue is heating up again. Lauren Weinstein, the founder of the new Network Neutrality Squad, wants to personally thank Comcast for providing the fuel.

Philadelphia-based Comcast has nearly 13 million Internet customers and is the countrys second-largest broadband provider. It is under fire for actively interfering with its users ability to access legal content by cutting off peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as BitTorrent and Gnutella, as well as business applications such as Lotus Notes.

Comcast initially denied any network neutrality violations, but admitted the week of Oct. 22 that it does delay some Internet traffic in the interests of "reasonable network management."

The accusations have given new life to the net neutrality debate and Weinstein a new cause. Launched Nov. 5, the NNS aims to provide a public platform to document the detection, analysis and incident reporting of any anti-competitive, discriminatory or other restrictive actions on the part of ISPs or affiliated entities.

The NNS is urging anyone and everyone to report alleged network neutrality violations at the groups Web site.

"The thing is that ISPs have sort of taken the stance that there is no need for network neutrality laws since there arent any real instances of it actually happening," Weinstein said from Woodland Hills, Calif. "But then along comes Comcast and in one fell swoop gave us a clear reality of what had been a theoretical issue."

Comcast did not respond to requests for comment.

Early signatories to the NNS cause include Googles Vint Cerf, Craigs List founder Craig Newmark and Phil Carn, Qualcomms vice president of technology.

"A lot of people across the spectrum have sat up and began to take notice [of possible network neutrality violations]," Weinstein said.

Although there are no federal laws prohibiting discrimination in handling network traffic, the Federal Communications Commission issued in 2005 four "principals" that are supposed to "guarantee consumers competition among providers and access to all content, applications and services."

While most of the net neutrality debate has centered on broadband carriers like AT&T proposing to charge large content providers extra fees based on bandwidth consumption—which is not covered by the FCCs principles—the charges against Comcast strike at the heart of the FCCs four rules.

"Theyre not supposed to be anti-competitive; theyre not supposed to discriminate; and, worse, they are being secret about it," Weinstein said. "Comcast violated all the rules. There was clearly a lack of transparency when customers asked what was happening."


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Weinstein describes himself as a policy analyst and contract worker through his company, Vortex Technology. He created the Privacy Forum in 1992, and has been involved with Internet and other technology issues for more than 30 years, starting in the early 1970s at the first site on the ARPANET, which was located at UCLA.

"Weve started the Network Neutrality Squad to have a better idea about what the ISPs are doing," he said. "Not everyone [in the group] is a pro-regulation fan, but we as a group feel that the goals of the organization are a good thing."

Weinstein said his network neutrality violations watch group, with contributions from anyone who thinks their ISP is violating the FCC principles, will "come up with some interesting data." He added that NNS hopes to "characterize the data in a meaningful way. It may show that regulation is necessary or maybe it isnt."

In any event, hell have Comcast to thank for the new effort.


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