Washington— Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin dragged his agency all the way to Harvard Law School last Monday to make the same point he’s made in just about every U.S. ZIP code: He dislikes and distrusts Comcast.
The Harvard session was billed a as discussion on broadband network-management practices. Instead, Martin turned it into a federally sanctioned sandbagging of the country’s largest cable company. It didn’t take deep packet inspection to notice that the witness table was stacked against Comcast. Martin, for example, filled three of six seats on the second (and last) panel with cable-bashers from MIT.
Martin’s assault on fair play, performed in broad daylight, was just astounding. One can only imagine what goes on at the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI on days when someone there decides it’s vendetta time.
Martin’s idea of striking a balance was to line up Comcast executive vice president David Cohen against six Comcast-hostile witnesses. Introductory comments in support of net neutrality were spoken by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and were later echoed by FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.
In fact, Copps and Adelstein were so tickled to be in Cambridge, they forgot to reprise their Seattle shtick of condemning Martin for giving them just five business days to prepare.
Cohen, toughened by years of hardball politics in Philadelphia, knew the deal right away.
“It’s a pleasure to be here today as a participant and hopefully not the main course for your meal,” Cohen cracked. His lone source of support was tepid backing from University of Pennsylvania law professor Christopher Yoo.
The FCC is investigating Comcast for allegedly blocking bandwidth-hogging, peer-to-peer BitTorrent traffic. Comcast said it delayed some traffic because abuses by a small minority degraded service for other high-speed data customers at peak times.
“These are very significant issues and we don’t take those allegations lightly,” Martin said. “I think it’s important to understand that the commission is ready, willing and able to step and, if necessary, correct practices that are ongoing today.” Translation: Comcast is lying.
Nor for the first time, Cohen insisted the blocking charge was bogus.
“To be absolutely clear, we do not block any Web sites or online applications, including [peer to peer],” he said.
Martin acted as if Cohen had admitted guilt.
Without reference to any FCC investigative findings, Martin repeatedly deployed the rhetoric and formulations of Comcast’s antagonists. Time and again, Martin used the word “blocked” to describe what took place on Comcast’s broadband network.
Where’s this thing going? That’s easy. Martin wants desperately to brand Comcast an Internet outlaw regardless of the facts, because Martin has decided to inflict regulatory harm on any convenient cable company anytime he can.
Martin has three votes to pull it off, his plus Copps’ and Adelstein’s. Martin probably wants to fine Comcast at least $1 million, if only to secure the attention of The New York Times.
But a fine that big might cost him Adelstein’s support.