Comcast’s network expert: Rep. Mary Bono Mack
Comcast’s network expert: Rep. Mary Bono Mack
Comcast’s network expert: Rep. Mary Bono Mack

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    Recently, Comcast responded to an FCC proceeding regarding it’s alleged blocking of bittorent traffic. In its discussion of how peer to peer uses the network, Comcast didn’t refer to a standards document, a software developer or even a network engineer, instead it referred to a member of Congress. Specifically, Representative Mary Bono Mack from California.

    The part Comcast quoted from Representative Bono Mack was from a speech given at the State of the Net Conference held January 30, 2008, where she said:

    The service providers are watching more and more of their network monopolized by P2P bandwidth hogs who command a disproportionate amount of their network resources… . You might be asking yourself, why don’t the broadband service providers invest more into their networks and add more capacity? For the record, broadband service providers are investing in their networks, but simply adding more bandwidth does not solve [the P2P problem]. The reason for this is P2P applications are designed to consume as much bandwidth as is available, thus more capacity only results in more consumption.

    Obviously, a member of Congress’ statements are to be respected, yet there are more than a few problems with this one. For now, I’ll leave it to you to explain what’s wrong with her statement in the comments below, because I’d like to put the substance of her statement aside and focus on how her statement is being used. As Prof. Ed Felton highlighted, Comcast used Ms. Bono-Mack’s statement in its FCC comments, essentially relying on it as an expert’s statement about how peer-to-peer works.

    Really? Well, I don’t have to say that this member of Congress isn’t an expert, because thankfully, later in her speech to Washington tech insiders, Ms. Bono-Mack does it herself:

    …If you’re not before us to educate us, and talk to us, then somebody else is. And you are the experts. As a member of Congress it’s rather intimidating to go before the experts and act like we are the true experts when you guys are.

    (emphasis added).

    The rest of her speech reveals that the telecoms are probably not the only ones who have been talking to at least this Representative on issues of network management and copyright filtering. This member is particularly important because she sits on the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce:

    I am passionate about the preservation and protection of intellectual property, especially digital intellectual property… In fact, when I approach Internet policy decisions, the first thing I ask is how will this impact intellectual property.

    Internet policy based in intellectual property protection. Wow. Why would a member of Congress intertwine these two separate issues?

    Now I’ve picked on this one member of Congress because Comcast quoted her in the net neutrality debate and because clearly the content companies have her ear—if you listen to her full statement it closely traces the rhetoric of U2’s manager Paul McGuinness from a speech he gave earlier that same week and RIAA’s Cary Sherman’s statements later at the same Net Caucus event. But, and I’m sorry to be cynical here, you only need a few minutes browsing to realize that she’s not the only member that the telecoms and the content industry financially support.

    We have an uphill battle in DC as it is with these well entrenched telecom and content industries. Hopefully they keep relying on members of Congress who themselves discount their own expertise, and openly blocking the public from attending public hearings. But all snarkieness aside, know that if you care about issues like net neutrality and fair use of copyrighted works, the intersection of these issues is heating up and we may need your help very soon.