WASHINGTON - Internet users should be free to surf where they want and download what they please. But shouldn't the owners of the networks that make the Internet possible also have rights?
That is the topic of debate at a special public meeting of the Federal Communications Commission at Harvard Law School today.
Recent events involving Comcast Corp. and Verizon Wireless have raised questions about network owners interfering with customer traffic flow. The meeting also is expected to attract a rally on minority media ownership.
The session is the agency's most serious public discussion to date of the principle of "network neutrality." That is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.
Among the speakers are the federal policy chiefs for Comcast and Verizon Communications Inc. as well as representatives from public interest groups.
Comcast is the subject of an FCC investigation regarding charges it has hampered traffic between users without notice. Comcast has denied the allegations.
The meeting also will address Verizon Wireless' denial in late September of a request by an abortion rights group to use its mobile network for a text messaging program. The company has since said it was a mistake.
Congress is considering legislation by Representative Ed Markey, a Malden Democrat, that would require the FCC to conduct eight "broadband summits" around the country on network neutrality.
On the same day and location of the hearing, the Boston and Cambridge branches of the NAACP plan to host a "take back our media" rally.
According to Karen Payne, president of the Boston branch of the civil rights group, the rally was sparked by the sale of Boston radio station WILD-FM in 2006. The station's urban format was popular in the black community.