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Net neutrality fans "crying wolf"?

A short-lived flap erupted earlier this month when some subscribers to Cox Communications' broadband service encountered trouble surfing the Craigslist online classifieds site.

When advocates of Net neutrality--that is, the idea that all Web traffic should be treated equally--caught wind of the problem, some hastily insinuated that the Atlanta-based cable company was blocking access to advance its own interests.

Perhaps most notably, Sen. Ron Wyden, the first politician to propose detailed Net neutrality regulations, called out Cox last weekend in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, deeming it an example of a company that has engaged in discrimination. The Oregon Democrat implied that Cox had the incentive to limit access to Craigslist because it's "a broadband provider that also has a large classified advertising business."

"That's completely not the case," Cox President Pat Esser said this week.

In a letter to Wyden that was hand-delivered on Monday, Esser explained that the hiccups were caused by "a software issue related to how security software developed by Authentium interprets Craig's List's initial packet connections, resulting in a very slow connection for some users." And, in fact, an earlier Wall Street Journal article had already delivered the same explanation, the letter noted.

The corporation also used the opportunity to discourage politicians again from passing Net neutrality mandates, saying proponents of the concept "should stop crying wolf."

"Despite the hype, there's no evidence of a real problem, no consensus on what the potential problems might be, and no consensus on how to solve the hypothetical problems," Esser said.

Wyden's press secretary told CNET on Wednesday that the senator was "glad to learn that (the Cox situation) was an accident" but would continue to push for strong Net neutrality legislation that would outlaw intentional discrimination.