November 2, 2007
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) found itself on the defensive again this week after a pressure group, the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, filed a petition (PDF) with the FCC, complaining that the MSO allegedly blocks some Internet applications and violates so-called "Net Neutrality" conditions.
"Comcast does not, has not, and will not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services, and no one has demonstrated otherwise," said Comcast executive vice president David Cohen, in a statement responding to those allegations.
He acknowledged that Comcast engages "in reasonable network management" to ensure that all customers obtain a good experience, and does so within FCC boundaries.
"As the FCC noted in its policy statement in 2005, all of the principles to encourage broadband deployment and preserve the nature of the Internet are 'subject to reasonable network management'. The Commission clearly recognized that network management is necessary by ISPs for the good of all customers," Cohen added.
"Comcast's defense is bogus," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, in a statement. "The FCC needs to take immediate action to put an end to this harmful practice."
In its complaint (PDF) against the MSO, a group that includes Free Press, the Media Access Project , the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) , and the Consumers Union, suggests the MSO should be subject to a $195,000 fine for each Comcast sub affected by "degraded" Internet service.
The debate over Comcast's Internet policies, particularly when it comes to P2P apps, heated up last month, when TorrentFreak claimed that some Comcast subs were unable to load files using the BitTorrent Inc. file-sharing application. TorrentFreak specifically linked those claims to Comcast's use of the Sandvine Inc. traffic management platform, claiming the system "breaks every (seed) connection with new peers after a few seconds if it's not a Comcast user." (See Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak.)
At the time, Comcast did not explicitly deny using deep packet inspection gear, but said it was not blocking access to applications or throttling Internet traffic.
The debate erupted again on Oct. 19 when an Associated Press report cited tests showing the MSO actively interferes with some P2P traffic. Again, Comcast said it did not block access to traffic. But managing some Internet traffic and giving some applications priority over others are a common practice by Internet service providers.
In a subsequent story, filed on Oct. 23, the MSO acknowledged "delaying" some Internet traffic but denied outright blocking.
"During period of heavy peer-to-peer congestion, which can degrade the experience for all customers, we use several network management technologies that, when necessary, enable us to delay – not block – some peer-to-peer traffic. However, the peer-to-peer transaction will eventually be completed as requested," Mitch Bowling, SVP of Comcast Online Services, told the AP, which noted that the MSO's explanation was consistent with the tests conducted by the news service.
It's not the first time Comcast has come under fire for not completely spelling out its Internet usage policies. It has also been criticized for capping bandwidth consumption, but not disclosing the limit. The MSO has said a small fraction, about 0.01 percent, of its cable modem customers use more than their fair share of network resources. (See A Tip of the Broadband Cap.)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News
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