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November 1, 2007

Petition Filed With the FCC Over Comcast Net Traffic

Comcast is now the subject of a formal petition before the FCC concerning its alleged blocking/delaying of BitTorrent transmissions.  The SavetheInternet web site filed the document along with academics from several universities.  They basically call on the FCC to enforce their pledge regarding the implementation of wireline services.  They quote from Appropriate Framework for Broadband Access to the Internet over Wireline Facilities, 20 F.C.C.R. 14853, 14904:

Some commenters request that we impose certain content-related requirements on wireline broadband Internet access service providers that would prohibit them from blocking or otherwise denying access to any lawful Internet content, applications, or services a consumer wishes to access. While we agree that actively interfering with consumer access to any lawful Internet information, products, or services would be inconsistent with the statutory goals of encouraging broadband deployment and preserving and promoting the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, we do not find sufficient evidence in the record before us that such interference by facilities-based wireline broadband Internet access service providers or others is currently occurring. Nonetheless, we articulate principles recognizing the importance of consumer choice and competition in regard to accessing and using the Internet: the Internet Policy Statement that we adopt today adopts such principles. We intend to incorporate these principles into our ongoing policymaking activities. Should we see evidence that providers of telecommunications for Internet access or IP-enabled services are violating these principles, we will not hesitate to take action to address that conduct.

The petitioners note three ways where Comcast violates the FCC rules.  The first is that users cannot run applications of choice.  Reported evidence shows that Comcast affirmatively cancels transmissions between torrent nodes, but even degrading service means that users can't effectively run P2P services.  While illegal content may be transmitted via P2P, there is a lot of legal uses for it.  Licensed video content distributed by legal sources uses P2P as one example.  Lotus Notes is a completely legal application hindered by Comcast.

The second alleged violation is that Comcast's actions prevent users from accessing the lawful content of their choice.  This relates to Comcast customers being unable to provide content to lawful downloaders.

The third claimed violation is that degrading service limits competition which hurts consumers.  This has to do with services on the Internet rather than competition between ISPs.  As a side note, I wonder if competition issues are part of the motivation for Comcast to denigrate P2P services.  After all, they are a cable company that provides broadband.  Could some of the video over IP cut into their ability to sell their own video product?  The petition suggests as much.

It's going to be interesting to see the FCC handle this one.  Comcast has yet to weigh in with a response to the petition.  That should also be interesting in light of third party tests of the Comcast network.  You can bet that other carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, and others will take a deep interest in this case as well.  There's no evidence that they degrade services as well, but watch for them to start shaping network traffic if this goes for Comcast.  Congress will likely weigh in on this as well depending on the FCC's response.

November 1, 2007 | Permalink


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