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Time Warner Under Fire For New Terms Of Service

Critics charge that policy changes are a threat to network neutrality.

Time Warner has changed its terms of service, and network neutrality advocates say that the changes raise doubts about the provider's commitment to providing equal service.

"It is unfortunate that just as President Obama was reinforcing his commitment to Net Neutrality, Time Warner was publishing new terms of service that raises serious questions about the company's commitment to an Internet free of discrimination," Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, said in a statement released Monday.

Public Knowledge argues that Time Warner's new terms of service allow the provider to use any bandwidth it wants for its own services "but puts its customers at risk if they use the Internet for services that may compete with Time Warner, such as video or telephone-like services."

The new terms of service also allow for prioritization of Time Warner Cable's own commercial subscriber traffic. Under the special provisions regarding high-speed data services, the company states, "Throughput Rate may be affected by Network Management Tools, the prioritization of TWC commercial subscriber traffic and network control information, and necessary bandwidth overhead used for protocol and network information."

The language is raising some concerns.

"Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission should each be concerned with how Time Warner is offering its cable modem services, and should conduct inquiries to determine the extent to which they hamper the free flow of information online and to which they are anticompetitive," Sohn said.

Time Warner has promised not to cap its customers' bandwidth use but Sohn said that the new terms put that into question as well.

Finally, Public Knowledge asked the FCC to investigate whether Time Warner is engaging in deceptive trade practices.

The company recently wrote the FCC, saying that competition ensures that service providers will act in the best interest of consumers.

"In particular, broadband providers must adopt reasonable pricing practices and traffic management policies or consumers will defect to a competitor that better meets their needs," the company explained. "The Commission should be especially loathe to recommend the application of net neutrality regulations in connection with programs that are intended to spur additional investment."

A Time Warner spokesman said Tuesday that the company's terms are always changing and they are updated regularly so existing customers and potential customers know what the company is doing or may do in the future. He said the prioritization applies to end users, or commercial customers paying higher fees for the service, and "it's not about prioritizing certain bits of data over others."

"Internet access is a dynamic product that is constantly changing so we're pretty good about making sure our terms of service are updated," Dudley said. Dudley said the most recent changes occurred nearly a year ago, in August 2008, and customers are notified when changes take place.


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