Optical/IP Networks

Legal Eagles Circle Comcast

Now the law firms are starting to pile on.

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), already facing the pressure of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) probe spawned by complaints by Vuze Inc. and Free Press over the MSO's treatment of peer-to-peer applications, has been hit by a class action lawsuit over claims of misrepresentation and false advertising.

The firm of Gilbert Randolph LLP filed the lawsuit with the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.

The named plaintiff is Dr. Sanford Sidner of Washington, D.C. According to the complaint, Dr. Sidner, who has a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University , claims that his cable modem connection has “been severely slowed and/or completely blocked by Comcast” when he accesses P2P applications or the Lotus Notes program.

The law firm said the class action suit applies to Washington citizens who purchased high-speed data services from Comcast between Feb. 16, 2005, and Feb. 16, 2008. Among the allegations, the suit argues that Comcast’s claims of providing the “fastest Internet connection” and “unfettered access to all the content, services, and applications that the Internet has to offer” are false.

The complaint puts a price on Comcast's actions, seeking at least $1,500 per violation. It also seeks unspecified punitive damages.

A Comcast spokesman confirmed that the MSO had been served with the suit, but noted that the company does not comment on ongoing litigation.

“To be clear, 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,” he noted in an email.

That stance runs parallel to the defense Comcast put up in its filing to the FCC last week, where the MSO claimed it “does not block any content, application, or service; discriminate among providers; or otherwise violate any aspect of the principles set forth in the Internet Policy Statement.” (See Comcast Defends P2P Management .)

Comcast likened its policies to a highway system, noting that cars are “briefly delayed” -- not blocked -- before being permitted onto a busy roadway, “thereby ensuring order and averting chaos.”

Not surprisingly, the class action suit has a different analogy in mind: “Comcast is like an operator who breaks in, disguises his or her voice as one of the callers, says ‘talk to you later,’ and abruptly disconnects the call.”

The subject will heat up again Monday, Feb. 25, when the FCC holds a Public En Blanc hearing on Comcast’s policies at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass. According to the agenda, some members of the opening panel discussion include Comcast EVP David Cohen; Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) EVP Tom Tauke; Columbia Law School Professor of Law Timothy Wu; and Free Press general counsel Marvin Ammori. Vuze CEO Gilles BianRosa is scheduled to kick things off with a demo of the company’s P2P service.

The SavetheInternet Coalition said it will be on hand to record public testimony throughout the day.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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