FCC to Comcast: Go forth and sin no more

As expected, the FCC voted 3-2 today to sanction Comcast for unlawfully interfering with its customers’ transfers of large video files (see “Oh yeah? Well, your slope is slipperier than our slope“), and while the agency’s cease-and-desist order doesn’t carry any actual punishment, it does require the cable company to deliver a compliance plan to the FCC and fully disclose to customers the nature of any future network management practices.

“Comcast was delaying subscribers’ downloads and blocking their uploads. It was doing so 24/7, regardless of the amount of congestion on the network or how small the file might be,” said Chairman Kevin Martin. “Even worse, Comcast was hiding that fact by making affected users think there was a problem with their Internet connection or the application. Today, the commission tells Comcast to stop.”

Comcast, which is already in the process of developing different methods of network management, had argued that it took only limited and reasonable steps to maintain quality of service for the majority of customers, but the FCC majority didn’t buy it. “The Commission rejected Comcast’s defense that its practice constitutes reasonable network management,” said an agency news release. “While Comcast claimed that it was motivated by a desire to combat network congestion, the Commission concluded that the company’s practices are ill-tailored to serve that goal for many reasons: they affect customers who are using little bandwidth simply because they are using a disfavored application; they are not employed only during times of the day when congestion is prevalent; the company’s equipment does not target only those neighborhoods suffering from congestion; and a customer may use an extraordinary amount of bandwidth during periods of network congestion and will be totally unaffected so long as he does not utilize an application disfavored by Comcast.”

In a dissent, Commissioner Robert McDowell made the argument that Comcast, after mulling its options, may decide to take to court, namely that the FCC is on shaky legal and technical ground. “Today, for the first time in Internet history, we say ‘goodbye’ to the era of collaboration that served the Internet community and consumers so well for so long; and we say ‘hello’ to unneeded regulation and all of its unintended consequences.”

The advocacy group Free Press, which had brought the complaint against Comcast, was in a celebratory mood. “What we wanted in general is to protect an open Internet through laws, through enforcement orders, through rules,” said the group’s general counsel, Marvin Ammori. “What the commission is giving us is a precedent setting order. … This is a major, major decision in the history of the Internet. It has shown that it will actually act when there’s a violation.”


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  • MJR

    One step to further gov’t control. The FCC needs to reigned in not encouraged. And lest we forget the internet is a luxury not a neccesity.
    The FCC and so called consumer advocates have crossed the line and guess who will be footing the bill.

  • PK

    So I’m about 12 days late in this comment, but I just read this article. This is a bit concerning to say the least. While Comcast obviously overstepped its bounds of control, it is still their network (technically) to control. The decision of the FCC, while perhaps welcomed by some CC subscribers (like myself), sets a dangerous precedent. It only sets us up for a great fall, such as to be witnessed if the “fairness doctrine” ever gets traction. Government regulation of free speech is oxymoronic.