FTC Conference Coverage: Commission Investigating Net Neutrality


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Though not a main focus of any panel at this week’s FTC conference on “Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-ade,” the issue of net neutrality came up Monday and Tuesday, to little surprise. After discussing the FTC’s recently-settled case against Zango, FTC Commissioner Jon Liebowitz Monday transitioned into net neutrality briefly, noting, “The net neutrality debate is so important.”

The commission has initiated an investigation into the issue of net neutrality, and related topics of consumer protection, competition, transparency and disclosure. “If these companies are able to discriminate there’s a danger their market power” could interfere with the growth of the Internet, he continued.

During a discussion later that day on user-generated content, Dr. Michael Geist, Canada research chair of Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Iowa, commented the net neutrality debate is “essential.” Content created by everyday users could be in danger of being “relegated to the slow lane” if ISPs decide to block or slow access to certain types of content, he said.

Reiterating something Liebowitz mentioned the prior day, Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, questioned in regards to the issue, “Shouldn’t consumers know the quality of the Internet service they’re getting?”

A definite skeptic of the need for a net neutrality debate, Dan Brenner, SVP for law and regulatory policy for the National Cable and Telecom Association, argued, “There is an absence of specific problems we want to address,” in regards to net neutrality. “Blocking [access to certain content], we know for major providers is off limits,” he added. “Here the debate in Washington seems to swirl about things that haven’t happened.”

In an obvious jab aimed at Brenner, fellow panelist Jim Kohlenberger, executive director of the VON Coalition, commented a bit later, “At least where I grew up I don’t wait for rain before I go out and fix the roof.”

Ouch.

Well, this debate is sure to rage on, and it looks like if Liebowitz’s comments are any indication, the FTC could get involved sometime down the road.

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