Comcast Wants to Be the Net's Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Comcast has just rolled out plans to draft a "bill of rights and responsibilities" for ISPs and Internet users. But the cable giant has forgotten one thing: to invite Internet users, policymakers and advocates to the table.

The move comes as the cable giant is scrambling to preempt a Federal Communications Commission ruling against its blocking of legal file-sharing programs.

In response to a complaint filed last fall by Free Press and members of the Coalition, the FCC has launched an official inquiry into the matter, and has hinted that action against Comcast is imminent.

An FCC hearing schedule for Thursday at Stanford University will focus on whether ISPs can shape, filter and even block content that travels over their networks. (The public -- more than 1.5 million of whom have spoken out against such violations -- has a rare opportunity to testify before the commission during the hearing.)

Comcast Wants to Play by Its Rules Only

In advance of Stanford, Comcast announced that it has partnered with Web traffic company Pando to put together a group of industry experts to play legislators and draft their own "bill."

Not surprisingly the list of prospective authors leaves out consumer advocacy groups like Free Press, Consumers Union, Public Knowledge, and EFF -- or anyone who might question Comcast's desire to play content cop over its network.

"Comcast has declared itself an arbiter of consumers' rights, says Marvin Ammori," Free Press General Counsel. "But Comcast's past behavior tells us everything we really need to know."

The cable giant's blocking of peer-to-peer applications continues to this day with no indication from the company of when or if they plan to stop. The move to convene their own panel is Comcast's effort to demonstrate that the private sector can solve all of the Internet's problems.

Paper Tiger

It all boils down to a simple question: Can we trust Comcast to protect our online freedoms without enforceable, independent consumer safeguards?

Their track record clearly indicates that a Comcast-drafted bill of rights would be worth no more than the paper it's printed on.

After all, Comcast routinely finishes at or near the bottom of customer service surveys. This is the same company that still refuses to admit that it was secretly blocking its users' file-sharing applications, even after several independent investigations found the opposite to be true.

It's the same company that then tried to block public debate on the issue by hiring seat-fillers to deny people entry to an FCC hearing in Boston.

A Real Bill

"Comcast has thumbed its nose at the existing consumer bill of rights," Ammori says. "Now facing unprecedented public, government and media scrutiny, Comcast is desperately trying to change the subject."

The need for Net Neutrality remains urgent. The FCC should do its job to uphold a real and enforceable bill of rights for consumers and not to trust the industry to police itself.

The road to a more open Internet leads through Stanford, and not through Comcast's latest ploy to skirt the rules.