- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday sided with advocates of “net neutrality,” voting to censure Comcast Corp. for interfering with its broadband customers’ use of file-sharing applications.

The FCC voted 3-2 to reprimand Comcast for deliberately slowing access to BitTorrent Inc., a file-sharing application often used to share videos and other large files. The FCC order did not include a fine.

The highly anticipated decision seeks to affirm the FCC’s authority to enforce a policy that entitles consumers to use the Internet applications and services of their choice. Some critics had questioned the agency’s power to punish companies that violated principles laid out in a September 2005 policy statement.

The case stems from a complaint filed againstComcast by advocacy groups Free Press and Public Knowledge, proponents of net neutrality, which believe Internet service providers (ISPs) should be required to treat all types of applications equally and not discriminate against those that hog bandwidth.

ISPs, meanwhile, have argued that network engineers should have leeway in managing the flow of Web traffic over their networks to ensure that the sharing of large files doesn’t degrade service to other subscribers.

The FCC called on ISPs to refrain from blocking and delaying Internet traffic and to disclose their network management policies to customers. In addition to throttling BitTorrent files, Comcast was criticized for concealing its practices.

“Would you be OK with the post office opening your mail, deciding they didn’t want to bother delivering it, and hiding that fact by sending it back to you stamped ‘address unknown — return to sender?’ Or if they opened letters mailed to you, decided that because the mail truck is full sometimes, letters to you could wait, and then hid both that they read your letters and delayed them? Unfortunately, that is exactly what Comcast was doing with their subscribers’ Internet traffic,” said FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin.

The order gives Comcast 30 days to disclose details of its “discriminatory network management practices” to the agency as well as a plan outlining how it intends to stop them by the end of the year. Comcast also must disclose to customers and the agency a new policy that complies with the ruling.