Comcast executive vice president David Cohen gave a shout-out to network neutrality Monday, though his praise was for the FCC process established for considering new rules, rather than for the need for network neutrality rules themselves.
In a meeting with reporters Monday, he said Comcast had no problem with FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's announcement of his network neutrality proposal or with the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
"Whether we agree with the outcome, we had no problem with Chairman Genachowski's initial speech on network neutrality, we have no problem with the NPRM or the forum in which it was issued. In fact, we appreciate and are more than willing, we are eager to participate in a fair and open process that is designed to generate a fact-driven decision around a contentious and difficult area of public policy. "
He said if the FCC were going to consider codifying network neutrality, which Comcast continues to feel is a solution in search of a problem, this was the right way to go about it. "We are somewhere between willing and enthusiastic about participating in that kind of a process," he said.
One thing Cohen said the FCC got right was asking whether the network neutrality rules-guidelines should apply to "all layers of the Internet," including applications like Google Voice."
Cohen said his general answer was yes. He said the FCC's guidelines are premised on the notion that "if we're going to protect a free and open Internet, we need to protect it at every layer and not just at the ISP level." He would still prefer principles rather than rules, however.
Cohen said the FCC's conduct over the past three or four years was fundamentally unfair because it did not let anyone know in advance what they were doing. He drew the distinction between that and the Genachowski FCC's promise of a fair, open and public discussion of the rationale for those decisions.
"We are supportive of what the NPRM does because it puts everyone on notice about what [the FCC] is thinking about doing," he said. "Google and other application providers may be able to present arguments about how extending these principles to their business creates some kind of chilling impact from the adverse or chilling impact it may present in our business and why they should be more limited in their application..."
Cohen may have had some warm fuzzies for open rulemaking process, but he warned that any regulatory scheme for the Internet must not discourage the deployment of capital for the broadband build-out the FCC must draw up a plan for by Feb. 17, particularly if that build-out is going to cost $350 billion, as some have suggested, to match the speeds in Korea and Japan. He pointed out that the private sector is expected to foot most of that bill.
Asked if Comcast's capital might be discouraged, Cohen said the company was "committed to participating in the process. "We have faith in the integrity of the process," he said."I think in the end, we are going to end up with an overall scheme that works to advance the national agenda of broadband deployment but that also works for our business model."
Cohen said he thought the upshot of the FCC's national broadband plan would focus on adoption, rather than deployment. He was basing that on the fact that 93% of the country has access to broadband, but that only 63% sign up. Certainly that is what he hopes will be the case. He likened the logic of targeting adoption to the answer ascribed to Willie Sutton when asked why he robbed banks: "That's where the money is."
Cohen would not comment for the record on the effect the network neutrality notice would have on the company's appeal of the FCC's decision that Comcast had violated its network neutrality principles by blocking BitTorrent peer-to-peer uploads. But Comcast is known to to argue that there is an inconsistency in its arguments for the BitTorrent decision and the net neutrality proposal, which Comcast sees as presupposing its existing principles were inadequate. Comcast is not expected to make a lot of that inconsistency.
Instead, Comcast will continue to argue that the the decision came without sufficient notice or due process.
Cohen did say that Comcast was faced in the BitTorrent proceeding that the company was faced with a "shifting set of potential things that they could have said which we violated that culminated in an order that was all over the place and said all sorts of terrible things about us that we don't believe were justified or supported by the record
and that, fortunately for us, were built on a faulty foundation of supposition and extensions of arguable rules of law that, under the pretty clear principles of the Constitution and the Administrative procedures Act and past FCC principles and statements, did not support the findings or the jurisdiction to make the findings that the commission made."
He said that Comcast was expecting to complete its transition to Docsis 3.0 by the end of 2010, but its migration to all-digital would probably be pushed into 2010.
Cohen said patting the "elephant in the room" was as close as he was going to get to addressing the subject of a possible Comcast/NBC U meld. But he said that, as with any transaction, Comcast wouldn't do a deal if it didn't think it could pass muster in Washington.
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