RealTime IT News

FCC to Uphold Network Complaint vs. Comcast

U.S. communications regulators later this week are expected to uphold a complaint accusing Comcast Corp of unreasonably restricting Internet users who share movies and other material, a source familiar with the case said on Monday.

The Federal Communications Commission will take formal action by Friday against Comcast for violating the FCC's open-Internet principles by improperly blocking peer-to-peer traffic on its network, the source said.

The commission is expected to take up the issue at its next public meeting on Friday. However, the source said a majority of the agency's five commissioners already have voted in favor of a proposal by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to uphold the complaint.

"I continue to believe that it is imperative that all consumers have unfettered access to the Internet," Martin said in a statement on Monday. "I am pleased that a majority has agreed that the commission both has the authority to and in fact will stop broadband service providers when they block or interfere with subscribers' access."

Comcast responded to reports of an FCC decision by reiterating the company's view that its network management practices are reasonable and did not block access to Web sites or applications.

"We do not believe the record supports any other conclusion," Comcast said in a statement.

The complaint against Comcast has become a flash point for a growing debate between open-Internet advocates who are pushing a concept known as "network neutrality" against some Internet service providers (ISPs), who say they need to take reasonable steps to manage ever-growing traffic on their networks for the good of all users.

No fine

The ruling against Comcast, proposed by Martin earlier this month, would not include any fines against the company. But it would require Comcast to halt its current practice of hindering peer-to-peer applications, to disclose to the FCC how the practice has been used, and to notify customers about other network management practices it adopts in the future.

The ruling has been closely watched because it will lay out key guidelines for operators of broadband networks as to what the FCC considers to be "reasonable" way for them to manage their networks.

Martin has said Comcast was in violation of FCC principles because the techniques it used to slow down peer-to-peer applications were "overly broad," targeted only certain applications, and were not disclosed to its customers.

In order to be considered reasonable under Martin's proposal, network management techniques must have a legitimate traffic-management goal, they must be narrowly drawn, and operators must fully disclose what they are doing to customers.

The complaint was filed by consumer groups who said Comcast had unreasonably hindered some file-sharing services, such as BitTorrent, that distribute TV shows and movies.

Comcast and other cable industry officials have argued that operators need to be allowed to manage their networks as they see fit to alleviate congestion and combat illegal file-sharing. Comcast also has argued that the FCC does not have the authority to enforce its open-Internet policy.

Comcast announced in March that it will change the way it manages its network later this year and cooperate with BitTorrent and other critics to resolve the dispute.

Comcast also said it would partner with a second file-sharing company and help create a "bill of rights" for consumers and Internet service providers.