Broadband providers should be allowed to manage their networks and contain "bandwidth hogs", a civil rights coalition has argued, contradicting many consumer rights groups in the net neutrality debate.
Net neutrality rules would protect heavy bandwidth users at the expense of other customers and civic organisations, said the coalition, which includes the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association, League of Rural Voters and National Council of Women's Organisations.
The coalition filed its comments with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the agency's inquiry into Comcast and its slowing of some P2P (peer-to-peer) traffic.
"Regulations prohibiting network management risk undermining free speech on the internet by allowing P2P traffic to overwhelm the network and prevent non-P2P traffic from reaching its destination," the coalition said in its filing. "The effective prioritisation of P2P traffic would represent an altogether new type of "back of the bus" second-class status for our speech on broadband networks – and ought to be resoundingly rejected."
That position puts the civil rights groups at odds with several consumer rights groups, including Public Knowledge and Free Press, which have called for the FCC to stop Comcast from slowing some internet traffic. Those groups, among a coalition of consumer rights groups that filed a complaint against Comcast in November, submitted their own comments to the FCC last week, saying opponents of their argument have misrepresented them.
The consumer groups don't want all network management outlawed, just discriminatory targeting, they said.
The FCC can act against network discrimination on a case-by-case basis, the consumer groups said. "We are asking, simply, that the FCC clarify what should already be obvious from FCC and congressional precedent and policy: when network providers discriminate against, delay, degrade, or block particular applications of a consumer's choice, the network providers violate [FCC policy] and should be punished," the groups said in their new filing.
The controversy over Comcast's network management erupted late last year after reports that the cable provider slowed BitTorrent traffic. The company has said it engages in "reasonable network management ... necessary for the good of all customers".
While the consumer groups repeated their calls for a stronger net neutrality policy at the FCC, the coalition of civil rights groups suggested a few bandwidth hogs could clog broadband networks if providers aren't allow to manage their networks.
"We need some honesty in this debate," Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. "Content discrimination is a real threat to an open internet, but so are bandwidth hogs – particularly those who traffic in illegal, pirated material. Bandwidth management can be objectionable if it is aimed at censoring certain content, but it is in the consumer's interest if it is aimed at preserving bandwidth for consumers that pay for it."