The major U.S. telecommunications carriers aren't sure what to expect from the next presidential administration, but at least one is hoping for a resolution of the Comcast net neutrality issue before President George Bush leaves office.
Network neutrality will be a key issue facing either Republican Senator John McCain or Democratic Senator Barack Obama if either of those presumptive party nominees wins the November election, carrier executives said during a panel discussion at the NXTcomm conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Others include potential acquisitions and the prices incumbent carriers can charge competitors for access to their lines.
[ For more on the issue of Internet freedoms, read Tom Yager's blog, "Digital TV foreshadows erosion of Internet rights" ]
The president appoints the five-member U.S. Federal Communications Commission, though only three members can be from the same political party. Under Bush, the commission has been weighted against government regulation in general, though it has cracked down in media decency and some other areas. The carrier officials didn't lay out many clear predictions about a shift from Republican to Democratic control, nor about a change from Bush to McCain.
The heated issue of net neutrality boiled over earlier this year when cable operator Comcast was accused of throttling traffic that uses the BitTorrent P-to-P (peer-to-peer) file-sharing protocol. It acknowledged doing so, invoking its right to manage its own network as justification. The dispute led to renewed calls for legislation guaranteeing consumers can use broadband networks for any legal purpose without discrimination. Comcast said earlier this month it would stop targeting specific network protocols for throttling but instead would slow traffic during peak hours for customers who used a "disproportionate" amount of capacity. The FCC is investigating Comcast but has not taken formal action against it.
"I think it's in the interest of the industry for the FCC to make a judgment on the Comcast issue" in 2008, said Thomas Tauke, executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications at Verizon Communications. The impact of a change in the White House isn't clear, he said.
"There's no question that Senator Obama is committed to the notion of net neutrality. To the best of my knowledge, he has not yet really defined what that means or how he would intend to implement that policy," Tauke said.
A position statement on the Obama campaign Web site says the candidate is opposed to a "two-tier" Internet in which some content providers pay for preferential treatment on networks.