FCC to Recommend Sanctions Against Comcast

By Sharla Sikes

The Federal Communications Commission will recommend sanctions against Comcast, a cable services provider, for blocking file-sharing traffic, according to the Associated Press.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin will circulate the order to other commissioners today, according to the AP. The commissioners will vote on the sanction at an open meeting Aug. 1.

“The commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers’ access to the Internet,” the AP quoted Martin saying. “We found that Comcast’s actions in this instance violated our principles.”

The important bit here, however, is that regardless of the outcome of the vote, VoIP shouldn’t be affected (for now, at least).  Vonage  and Comcast say they are collaborating to “address the reasonable network management of Internet services.” Though the agreement between the two isn’t solid, Comcast and Vonage will work together “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.” But what may come of this someday down the road? If VoIP users were to be regulated or charged by bandwidth, that could spell the death of the VoIP industry.

Comcast has been the target of criticism recently for deliberately slowing down peer-to-peer traffic. Comcast defends its actions, stating that the file-sharing traffic consumes too much bandwidth and “caused degradation across the rest of its customers,” but the FCC considers its actions unauthorized network manipulation.  A 2005 policy approved by the FCC states that broadband networks must be “widely deployed, open, affordable and accessible to all consumers,” though the principles are “subject to reasonable network management.”

A Comcast spokesperson said Comcast had not blocked Internet content or services, and the “carefully limited measures that Comcast takes to manage traffic on its broadband network are a reasonable part” of a Comcast practice designed to maintain service quality for all users. Comcast also states that the FCC  “never before provided any guidance on what it means by ‘reasonable network management.’”

February hearings on the topic brought about a debate over the legality of blocking service for file-sharing, with deeper implications on Internet neutrality and Internet users’ rights.

To comply with Martin’s order, Comcast must cease blocking the traffic, and provide both the FCC and its customers details about its network management practices both currently and in the future.

The order may have other repercussions, however, according to New York Times writer Vindu Goel.

“Mr. Martin’s proposed ruling in favor of openness could actually end up hurting Internet users if it accelerates the nascent moves by the industry to charge customers based on how much data they use instead of offering essentially unlimited data for a flat fee.”

The FCC’s order was a response to a complaint from the nonprofit group Free Press, which calls itself an advocate for network neutrality.

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Sharla Sikes

I'm a technology writer who enjoys writing about VoIP topics and news. My goal is to provide an interesting VoIP-related post at least once a day.

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