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Cable Technology Feature Article

July 11, 2008

Comcast in Hot Water Over Traffic Throttling

By Greg Galitzine, Group Editorial Director

FCC (News - Alert) Chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday that he will recommend that Comcast — the nation’s largest cable company — be penalized for violating the FCC’s principles that are designed to guarantee access to the Internet. This would be the first such penalty levied in defense of the agency’s open access rules.
The current brouhaha stems from Comcast’s alleged blocking of — or throttling back — certain peer-to-peer traffic, such as BitTorrent (News - Alert) file transfers.
The AP is quoting Martin, saying, “The commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers’ access to the Internet. We found that Comcast’s actions in this instance violated our principles.”
The FCC head accused Comcast of arbitrarily blocking access and failed to let its customers know what it was up to.
For their part, Comcast denied blocking any content or services but rather that their actions constituted reasonable measures to manage traffic on its network to ensure that all customers have access to quality service.
Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press and author of the original complaint presented to the FCC, issued the following statement:
“Nine months ago, Comcast was exposed for blocking free choice on the Internet. At every turn, Comcast has denied blocking, lied to the public and tried to avoid being held accountable. We have presented an open and shut case that Comcast broke the law.
“The FCC now appears ready to take action on behalf of consumers. This is an historic test for whether the law will protect the open Internet. If the commission decisively rules against Comcast, it will be a remarkable victory for organized people over organized money.”
Comcast also announced this week that it would work with Internet phone service provider Vonage (News - Alert) to ensure that Vonage customers would enjoy consistent, quality service levels.
According to a Vonage press release, “Comcast committed to work together with Vonage to ensure that network management techniques are chosen that effectively balance the need to avoid network congestion with the need to ensure that over-the-top VoIP services like Vonage work well for consumers.”
Writing on his GigaOm blog, Om Malik seemed a bit perturbed that Comcast would have to work with Vonage at all to improve the quality of service.
…it wasn’t until I read Cynthia Brumfield’s post that I realized Comcast might have unknowingly admitted to messing with Vonage’s VoIP traffic.
What’s interesting and surprising is that Vonage is not based on P2P technology, unlike Skype (News - Alert) and other competitive VoIP providers. So this effort by Comcast, which extends to a seemingly unrelated “over-the-top” technology seems, well, out of the blue. Has Vonage had problems with Comcast causing problems for its customers, problems that stemmed not from the same kind of packet reset technology that spurred the initial controversy?
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out and what effects this will have on an overall strategy regarding net neutrality.
Stay tuned…
Greg Galitzine (News - Alert) is editorial director of TMCnet. To read more of Greg’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
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