Comcast Under Fire From FCC Yet Again

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin at CES 2008.
Source: Reuters

The top U.S. communications regulator said on Tuesday that an investigation of how Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) manages its network had raised further concerns about tactics the company has used to restrict Internet users from sharing movies and other material.

Testifying before Senate lawmakers, U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said Comcast had used a “blunt” technique to impose broad restrictions on peer-to-peer file sharing.

“Contrary to some claims, it does not appear that this technique was used only to occasionally delay traffic at particular nodes suffering from network congestion at that time,” Martin said in prepared remarks before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The FCC is looking into complaints from consumer groups that cable operator Comcast has unreasonably blocked or hindered some file-sharing services, such as BitTorrent, that distribute TV shows and movies.

Comcast on Tuesday issued a statement reiterating that it believes its network management practices were a “reasonable choice” and saying that it was switching to a new technique by the end of the year.

Martin has previously expressed concern about some Comcast network practices, specifically that the company did not disclose more to customers and application developers about the way it manages traffic on its network.

Subsequently last month, Comcast announced it would change the way it manages its network 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.

In his prepared testimony for Tuesday’s hearing, Martin said that “based on the testimony we have so far, some users were not able to upload anything they wanted and were unable to fully use certain file-sharing software from peer-to-peer networks.”

Martin said the equipment Comcast used to delay traffic “is typically deployed over a wider geographic or system area and would therefore have impacted numerous nodes within a system simultaneously.”

“It appears that this equipment blocks the uploads of at least a large portion of subscribers in that part of the network, regardless of the actual levels of congestion at that particular time,” Martin said in his testimony.

The dispute over so-called network neutrality pits open-Internet advocates against some service providers such as Comcast, which say they need to take reasonable steps to manage traffic on their networks.

Comcast, which has more than 13 million broadband subscribers, has denied impairing some applications and has said it merely managed the system to deal with network congestion for the good of all users.

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