In a 3-2 vote cast earlier today, the FCC determined that the nation’s largest broadband provider interfered with subscribers’ access to free and open Internet connections.
Specifically the commission accused Comcast, also the largest cable company in the United States, of using technology to monitor the content of its customer’s Internet connections and to selectively block BitTorrent P2P applications. The commission’s declaratory ruling was in response to a complaint by Free Press and Public Knowledge, which accused the cable provider of “unduly interfering with Internet users right to access the lawful Internet content and to use the applications of their choice.”
Comcast initially denied the accusations but when pressed, admitted that it was targeting its P2P customers for interference but only during peak times of usage. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the cable provider was interfering with such users continuously, regardless of the time of day.
The commission concluded that Comcast’s network management practices discriminate among applications rather than treating all equally and are inconsistent with the concept of an open and accessible Internet. For example, the FCC noted that Comcast’s targeting of P2P users was highly suspect because they could conceivably watch video over broadband for free rather than pay for Comcast’s VOD services.
Comcast claimed that it had the right to use “reasonable network management” practices to combat network congestion but the commission didn’t buy that argument, saying that Comcast’s Internet blocking traffic was too widespread and unfairly targeted non P2P users. It also said Comcast failed to notify its customers of such practices.
The commission ordered that within 30 days, Comcast must disclose the details of its discriminatory network management; submit a plan for compliance by the end of the year; and disclose its new network management practices that will replace current ones.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association didn’t say whether it would challenge the ruling in court, but hammered the bureaucrats.
“One need look no further than today’s FCC decision for proof that engineering challenges on the Internet should be solved by engineers, not government officials,” NCTA boss Kyle McSlarrow said in a statement. “In second-guessing reasonable network management techniques (with no notice or guidelines in place) that benefit the overwhelming number of broadband subscribers in America, the FCC has inexplicably elevated the interests of a few bandwidth hogs over everyone else.”
Public Knowledge, on the other hand called the FCC’s actions “a bold step.”
“Comcast’s throttling of legal Internet traffic had nothing to do with network management as the company claims,” said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn. “It had everything to do with a big company trying to exert its power over a captive Internet market.”
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