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Policy + charging

FCC's Martin Ready to Penalize Comcast

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin is poised to punish Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) over allegations that the nation's largest MSO has been "blocking" some forms of Internet traffic "arbitrarily" and violating agency policies, the Associated Press reported late Thursday.

"The Commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers' access to the Internet," Martin told the AP yesterday. "We found that Comcast's actions in this instance violated our principles."

Martin reportedly plans to circulate a draft order among agency Commissioners today that recommends enforcement action, but no financial penalties against Comcast. (See Martin Not in a 'Fine' Mood.) The FCC is expected to vote on the proposal during an open meeting scheduled for August 1.

Depending on how the FCC vote shakes out, the decision could set a precedent for other broadband service operators. Cox Communications Inc. , for example, has also been scrutinized for some of its network management policies. (See Study Alleges a Cox Block on P2P Traffic.)

In addition to facing an FCC probe, Comcast has been subject to multiple complaints for delaying or throttling peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic during times of congestion. (See Comcast Defends P2P Management .) Some parties, however, have likewise alleged that the throttling has occurred during all parts of the day, and not just during periods when the network needed to balance itself out.

Comcast could not comment on the Martin proposal because the operator had not seen it yet, but the company reiterated Friday that it does not block P2P apps or other forms of Internet traffic.

"Comcast does not block any Internet content, applications, or service," said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast's senior director of corporate communications and government affairs, in a statement issued today. "The carefully limited measures that Comcast takes to manage traffic on its broadband network are a reasonable part of Comcast's strategy to ensure a high-quality, reliable Internet experience for all Comcast high-speed Internet customers are used by many other ISPs around the world."

In a document filed Thursday with the FCC, Comcast estimated that 9 million P2P TCP flows traverse its network on a typical day, with 90 percent of those flows "totally unaffected by network management." In systems experiencing "heavy" P2P usage, when a P2P upload from a PC was "delayed," the same computer successfully started an upload within 1 minute in 80 percent of cases, the MSO added.

Comcast has insisted that network management techniques are "reasonable," and it has responded to the pressure by pledging to migrate to a "protocol agnostic" platform by year-end, and at least two trials of the technology are already underway. (See Comcast Getting 'Protocol Agnostic', Comcast CTO: Manage People, Not Protocols, and Comcast Ready to Test New Traffic Cop.)

The MSO has also attempted to show that these issues can be dealt without government intervention by carving out network management agreements with third-parties, including BitTorrent Inc. and, most recently, Vonage Holdings Corp. (NYSE: VG). So far, those actions have done little to get Martin and Network Neutrality advocates off the MSO's back. (See Comcast, Vonage Strike VOIP Pact and Comcast: Feds Not Needed Here .)

Free Press, which has lodged a complaint against the MSO over its network management practices, believes it has "presented an open and shut case that Comcast broke the law."

"The FCC now appears ready to take action on behalf of consumers," Free Press general counsel Marvin Ammori said, in a statement issued in response to the AP story. "This is an historic test for whether the law will protect the open Internet." (See Free Press Counts on Comcast.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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