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Comcast has 30 days to detail Internet plans

The FCC has given Comcast 30 days to outline its Internet management plans. The cable operator says it doesn’t know yet what it will do.

Reports last week said the cable giant is testing new technology that would slow the transmission of Internet files for its biggest users by as much as 20 minutes during times of heavy network congestion. By week’s end, Comcast admitted the testing but said it has made no final plans on how to handle network congestion.

Comcast has been conducting tests on new network management techniques since the end of May, Charlie Douglas, a Comcast spokesman, told IDG News Service. Among the leading options is to slow all Web traffic from heavy users for up to 20 minutes during times of heavy network traffic.

When the congestion is resolved in less than 20 minutes, the heavy users’ traffic would be slowed for shorter times, sometimes for only a minute or two, Douglas said. Heavy users’ traffic would still move over the Internet, but it would “become deprioritized” during times of congestion, the spokesman said.

This approach would be “protocol agnostic,” Douglas added. By not blocking specific applications, Comcast likely would comply with the FCC’s Aug. 1 vote, he said.

In last week’s order, the FCC concluded that Comcast’s earlier management of Internet traffic was discriminatory and “inconsistent with the concept of an open and accessible Internet.” The commission said Comcast had an “anticompetitive motive” because it delayed and blocked peer-to-peer files through applications such as BitTorrent.

It is unclear whether Comcast’s latest system will survive FCC scrutiny. If Comcast does not comply with the FCC’s order or fails to end the network practices to the commission’s satisfaction, the issue would be put before an administrative law judge.

“The FCC’s action confirms that it is illegal for Internet service providers to block or impede access to lawful online content. This clear legal precedent signals that the future of the net neutrality debate will be over how, not whether, to protect users’ right to unfettered Internet access,” said Ben Scott, director of the Free Press, one of the groups that brought the original Comcast charges to the FCC.