Professor Tim Wu Backs FCC in Case against Comcast for Violating Net Neutrality

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New York, Oct. 6, 2009 -- Columbia Law School Professor Tim Wu is among those urging a federal appellate court to uphold sanctions by the Federal Communications Commission against Comcast for blocking content on its broadband network.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Wu and four other law professors said the FCC’s position is consistent with maintaining the “open platform of diverse uses” that is a hallmark of the Internet.
The FCC had ruled last year that Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, had violated net neutrality rules by blocking access to Bit Torrent file-sharing traffic. Net neutrality, a term coined by Wu in 2003, is the principle that Internet providers should not block content in favor of their own offerings.
Comcast agreed to not discriminate against content on its network, but nevertheless challenged the FCC’s authority to take action.
Wu and the other professors told the court the FCC’s action is consistent with open network policy goals that have been in place since the mid-1990s, and taking away that power could “pose significant threats to the Internet as we have always known it.”
A finding in Comcast’s favor, they said, would, “among other things, grant network owners almost complete impunity to block traffic for any reason … as they alone see fit, and with no regard to the harms caused to other network users.”
The brief argued that not allowing the FCC to enforce net neutrality would stifle the Internet’s ability to be a catalyst for innovation and economic growth.
“In particular, by singling out – and secretly discriminating against individual applications, these practices will introduce significant new uncertainties that will harm applications developers and make it more difficult for them to obtain funding,” the professors wrote.
The brief noted that actions like Comcast’s threaten “new forms of democratic speech,” such as inexpensive video distribution, social networks and blogs.
“Peer-to-peer technologies – the kind Comcast unilaterally singled out for blocking – enable these new forms of speech by providing drastically cheaper distribution mechanisms for new forms of content, particularly video content.”
Also on the brief with Wu were Jack M. Balkin, Yale Law School; James Ming Chen, Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville; Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law School; and Barbara van Schewick, Stanford Law School.
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