January 9, 2008
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) can expect closer scrutiny by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , the regulatory agency's commissioner says.
Kevin Martin said yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that the FCC would investigate complaints that the cable company actively blocks certain types of peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic running across its network: "We're going to investigate and make sure that no consumer is being blocked from a particular type of access in a discriminatory way."
Comcast has been dogged by charges that it blocks P2P traffic traveling off-net. First reported by TorrentFreak in August, both the Associated Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have confirmed that the company degrades P2P traffic when users seek to seed, or upload, files to users outside of Comcast's network. (See 2007 Top Ten: Cable Fables & Lessons Learned , Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak, and Comcast's P2P Problem.)
Since charges of P2P throttling first surfaced, Comcast has repeatedly denied blocking access to any file or application. In response to Martin's comments, the MSO issued a statement attributed to executive vice president David L. Cohen.
"We look forward to responding to any FCC inquiries regarding our broadband network management. We believe our practices are in accordance with the FCC's policy statement on the Internet where the Commission clearly recognized that reasonable network management is necessary for the good of all customers. Comcast does not, has not, and will not block any websites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services."
Despite Martin's promise that the FCC would investigate Comcast's P2P practices, Heavy Reading analyst Alan Breznick says the agency is unlikely to take a hardline on net neutrality in this case.
"I don't think that the FCC is really going to do much, but they have to make it seem like they care about this, so they have to make a stink about it," Breznick says.
Part of the problem is that traffic management is not limited to Comcast, or to MSOs in general. Deep packet inspection (DPI) has become big business as broadband service providers increasingly look to examine, manage, and shape traffic running across their networks.
In a recent Light Reading Insider report, analyst Simon Sherrington estimates that carrier demand will drive revenues in the DPI market from about $400 million in 2007 to more than $1 billion by 2010. (See The Greening of DPI and DPI Market Set for Mobile Ramp.)
Breznick thinks Comcast would have benefited more by using traffic management hardware to create differentiated classes of service and charging more for high-volume users.
"Comcast should never block or delay traffic. The smart thing would be for them to charge people and say, 'You can do anything you want, but we're going to charge you for it,' " he says.
— Ryan Lawler, Reporter, and Phil Harvey, Editor, Light Reading
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