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Senators want probe of Comcast's BitTorrent 'discrimination'

Proponents of Net neutrality laws call for a hearing on the issue, arguing reports of peer-to-peer traffic interference support need for rules banning that practice.

Comcast's reportedly aggressive filtering of BitTorrent and other file-sharing traffic is drawing calls for a U.S. Senate hearing--and a renewed push for Net neutrality laws.

Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) on Friday sent a letter asking Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) to convene a hearing as soon as possible to investigate "the topic of service discrimination by phone and cable companies."

The request isn't new: Dorgan and Snowe both made a similar plea after reports that Verizon Wireless had initially refused to carry a reproductive rights group's text messages.

The senators suggested the incidents indicate "Congress should consider adopting targeted regulations to protect consumers and ensure a vibrant and open communications platform."

They're referring, of course, to Net neutrality rules, which Dorgan and Snowe proposed once again earlier this year after a similar effort failed to pass last year. That's the idea that broadband operators like Comcast and Verizon should not be allowed to block, impair, or discriminate against any content that crosses their pipes--or charge companies extra fees for the privilege of getting their traffic prioritized.

Many Democrats support the regulations, but Republicans have largely rejected them, claiming the market is sufficient to sort out perceived discrimination problems as they arise and that new regulations would stifle investment in new broadband services.

Verizon, for its part, ultimately allowed the reproductive rights group's messages, citing an "outdated policy" that caused the company to decline to carry the group's alert system. Comcast also denied blocking access to any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services, but it acknowledged "delaying" some Internet traffic in the interest of improving other subscribers' surfing experiences, particularly during highly congested periods.

A Democratic Commerce Committee aide told CNET News.com on Friday that Inouye had received the letter but wasn't sure when--or if--a hearing would be scheduled.