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NBC to feds: Urge ISPs to police piracy

Amidst thousands of comments about whether Net neutrality rules are needed, media conglomerate urges FCC to stress that broadband providers must fight transfer of copyrighted works.

Friday marked the deadline for filing comments with federal regulators scrutinizing "broadband industry practices," and for the most part, they're familiar pleas for why or why not to impose strict Net neutrality requirements.

Not so for media conglomerate NBC Universal. Its general counsel, Richard Cotton, urged the Federal Communications Commission not to get bogged down in the question of whether it's wise to prohibit network operators from prioritizing content through making special deals. What's missing from the debate, he wrote, is acknowledgment of "a huge and rapidly growing proportion of Internet traffic consists of stolen property."

It's high time for the FCC to establish in written principles that "broadband service providers have an obligation to use readily available means to prevent the use of their broadband capacity to transfer pirated content," Cotton wrote in its 10-page filing (PDF) posted to the FCC's comment docket Friday.

"Whether those means consist of relatively low-tech but potentially effective steps such as forwarding notices to customers who have been identified as infringers, or using increasingly sophisticated bandwidth management tools as and when they come online, the obligation to deploy such measures must be explicit," Cotton went on.

A controversial law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act already governs what Web hosts should do about unauthorized content posted on their servers. It generally lets them off the hook for legal liability, provided that they don't turn a blind eye to copyright infringement and that they remove infringing material when notified.

NBC argues in its filing that some providers have, in fact, done just that--refused to forward notices to subscribers caught copying content illicitly and ignoring patterns of such violations. The company singles out peer-to-peer file sharing networks as problematic, arguing their high-bandwidth operations are not conducive to copyright infringement but also degrade the Internet service of "law-abiding consumers."

"Consumers are entitled to competition among content providers," Cotton wrote, "but not the unfair competition that results when one provider steals the desirable content that another has spent millions of dollars to develop and distribute through legitimate channels."

Of the rest of the nearly 10,000 documents posted to the commission's online docket at press time, the vast majority appears to come from private citizens, often clearly inspired by handy form letters drafted by grassroots advocacy groups. The usual suspects representing telecommunications, cable and Internet companies also appear.

Several hundred commenters focused less squarely on Net neutrality and more on gripes about broadband companies that lock "consumers into long-term contracts with high termination fees."