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FCC rules Comcast violated Internet access policy - NYTimes.com
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Fri, 1 Aug 2008 13:31:20 -0400
August 1, 2008
FCC rules Comcast violated Internet access policy
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 1:10 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A divided Federal Communications Commission has
ruled that Comcast Corp. violated federal policy when it blocked
Internet traffic for some subscribers and has ordered the cable giant
to change the way it manages its network.
In a precedent-setting move, the FCC by a 3-2 vote on Friday enforced
a policy that guarantees customers open access to the Internet.
The commission did not assess a fine, but ordered the company to stop
cutting off transfers of large data files among customers who use a
special type of ''file-sharing'' software.
Comcast says its practices are reasonable -- that it has delayed
traffic, not blocked it -- and that the FCC's so-called network-
neutrality ''principles'' are part of a policy statement and are not
Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin proposed the enforcement action
and was joined by Democratic commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and
Michael Copps in voting for approval. He was opposed by members of his
own party, commissioners Robert McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate, who
both issued lengthy dissents.
The commission's authority to act stems from a policy statement
adopted in September 2005 that outlined a set of principles meant to
ensure that broadband networks are ''widely deployed, open, affordable
and accessible to all consumers.''
The principles are ''subject to reasonable network management,'' a
concept the agency has not explicitly defined.
While the FCC action did not include a fine, it does require Comcast
to stop its blocking practice by the end of the year. The company must
also provide details to the commission on the management techniques it
has used and let consumers know details of its future plans.
Martin was particularly critical of the company's failure to disclose
to customers exactly how it was managing its traffic, saying this
action ''compounded the harm.''
Martin said Comcast managers were not ''simply managing their network,
they had arbitrarily picked an application and blocked their
subscribers' access to it.''
Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in a prepared statement that
the company was ''disappointed in the commission's divided conclusion
because we believe that our network management choices were
She said the company believes the order ''raises significant due
process concerns and a variety of substantive legal questions.''
The FCC's action means network operators are subject to the FCC's
enforcement process and the agency will act on consumer complaints.
Martin told The Associated Press in an interview before the meeting
that the agency will consider fines for future violations, but he
declined to speculate on how large they would be.
The FCC action arose when bloggers reported that Comcast customers who
used file-sharing software like BitTorrent were noticing their
transmissions were aborting prematurely.
The Associated Press ran tests and reported Comcast was indeed cutting
off transfers by masquerading as its one of its customers.
The report led to a complaint by public interest group Free Press and
others that the company was violating agency principles.
Comcast has said it did not block traffic, but delayed it, and only
among users of the file-sharing, peer-to-peer programs that were
responsible for taking up a disproportionate share of bandwidth and
endangering service for other customers.
The company has pledged to stop using its network management practice
by the end of the year and switch to a ''protocol agnostic'' technique
that will not single out any particular type of user.
The action is the first test of the agency's network neutrality
The enforceability of the principles have been questioned by many,
including Martin, who said when the policy statement was adopted in
2005 that they ''do not establish rules nor are they enforceable
Members of Congress, including presumed Democratic presidential
nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, have pushed for network
neutrality legislation without success.
Large Internet service providers have fought such regulation, arguing
that companies that spend billions on their networks must be free to
Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc. and the U.S. Telecom
Association all released statements saying the FCC action proved there
was no need for federal network neutrality legislation.
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- FCC rules Comcast violated Internet access policy - NYTimes.com David Farber (Aug 01)