During a January 8th Panel Discussion at the Consumer electronics show FCC Chairman Kevin Martin unequivocally said his agency would be investigating allegations Comcast inappropriately interfered with peer to peer data traffic moving across their network. That investigation, looking into issues relating to Net Neutrality Policy, is now official.
Comcast confirmed Monday they had received official letters of inquiry regarding the complaints.
The complaints stem from the Associated Press’ discovery in October that Comcast was either blocking, or intentionally slowing down (a practice called “throttling”), Internet traffic generated by the Bit Torrent peer to peer software used by some Comcast subscribers. Comcast’s behavior was an apparent violation of Net Neutrality principles and created public backlash.
Comcast initially declined they were doing anything to web traffic, than changed course and acknowledged they were slowing (or “throttling”) the traffic speeds but only as a “reasonable” measure to manage the traffic loads on their network.
Peer to peer software, like Bit Torrent, often involves substantially more uploading of data than is typical for regular Internet browsing and email behavior. The throttling was claimed to be justified as a necessary step to balance the load this puts on servers and insure Comcast can provide and equally high quality of service for all customers.
In November several consumer groups and a few companies asked the FCC to look into the allegations. Two of the groups even suggested an outrageous fine of $195k per subscriber. (Comcast has about 12m subscribers).
Comcast stands by their statement that their actions are reasonable and “in accordance with the FCC’s policy statement.”
The investigation will hopefully determine that. It could turn into a referendum on the entire “net neutrality” issue.
•Comcast’s 2008 Vision: On Demand is King
•Congress Investigating FCC. FCC Investigating Comcast
•Bandwidth Blockades: Net Neutrality, ISP Throttling and the Entertainment Industry
•Wikipedia on the Concept of Net Neutrality
•2006 Debate Between Craig Newmark (of Craigslist) and Mike McCurry (Lobbyist for the phone industry) (via WSJ)