Feds Seem Unlikely to Guarantee Neutral Pipes

FCC chairman says operators must be free to manage Internet bandwidth.

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The nation's top broadband regulator sounds unhappy with network operators that were caught throttling video downloads. But don't expect FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to stop them.

The FCC is at the middle of the debate over Internet access. "Net neutrality" advocates want the operators to keep their mitts off the pipes, noting that the telcos and cable companies that run the biggest Internet networks also sell their own content, notably video services. The fear is that the Internet providers might be stifling competition.

Comcast at first denied reports it was throttling video downloads. Later, the cable company said it was just managing network capacity to avoid congestion.

In a speech at Stanford University, Martin made it clear he wasn't happy being misled by Comcast. But he noted again that the commission has not adopted an "explicit, nondiscrimination principle."

Instead, he said, operators must simply act uniformly. He didn't give details but appeared to imply that Internet providers must block all peer-to-peer services and not just one, such as the popular BitTorrent.

They also must publicly describe what they're doing, Martin said. Consumers can presumably move to a competing broadband provider that won't throttle their video downloads.

Problem is, it's hard to find competitors outside the cable and telephone companies.