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FCC Chair to Comcast: Set a Date

Jeff Baumgartner
3/27/2008

Kevin Martin wants more details.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman has asked Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) to commit to when it will halt its current P2P management practices in the wake of an agreement announced between the MSO and BitTorrent Inc. earlier today.

Comcast plans to migrate to a "protocol agonistic" capacity management system by the end of 2008, bowing to persistent pressure about the way the operator is throttling some P2P traffic. It's also in the process of more than doubling its upstream capacity in "several key markets" by year-end. (See Comcast Caves In to P2P Pressure.)

Martin, in comments issued Thursday, said he was "pleased" with the agreement, but apparently has not swayed from his view that the MSO is "arbitrarily blocking certain applications on its network." Comcast has maintained that it does not block any applications, but has acknowledged delaying some traffic using "reasonable" network management techniques. (See Comcast Defends P2P Management .)

Regardless, Martin wants to know when the MSO will stop doing whatever it has been doing.

"It appears this practice will continue throughout the country until the end of the year and in some markets, even longer. Comcast should provide its broadband customers as well as the Commission with a commitment of a date certain by when it will stop this practice."

A Comcast spokesman didn't specify when the operator and other parties involved in the agreement plan to publish details about a new capacity management system, but said the process will be "open and collaborative."

Earlier today, Comcast and BitTorrent were hopeful that the agreement demonstrated such technical issues could be ironed out "without the need for government intervention."

But FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps was having none of it.

"Today's announcement confirms my belief that the FCC needs to play a proactive role in preserving the Internet as a vibrant place for democratic values, innovation, and economic growth," he said. Without the FCC's attention on this issue, "we would not be having the conversation that we are having now… about the best way to implement reasonable network management," Copps added.

But FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell appeared to be satisfied. "The private sector is the best forum to resolve such disputes. Today's announcement obviates the need for any further government intrusion into this matter," he said.

In a way, both Copps and McDowell will get their wish soon enough. The FCC is set to host a second Public En Banc hearing on the subject of "reasonable network management practices " on April 17, this time at Stanford University. The first was held in late February at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass. (See FCC Mulling New Internet Rules .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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