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FCC 1, Comcast 0
FCC Issues Cease and Desist Order against Comcast
On August 1st the FCC voted 3-2 that Comcast’s actions violated Net neutrality rules when it throttled BitTorrent traffic earlier this year and for several past years. This marks the first time that a U.S. broadband provider has been ruled in violation of Net neutrality. As a result of its ruling the FCC issued a cease and desist order to Comcast to notify its subscribers of its plans for managing network traffic.
The vote was predicted earlier, and the head of the FCC has been strongly lambasted by the Bush administration and other conservatives for his ruling. Defenders of free speech and prominent law school faculty, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford Law Schools, have lauded the ruling as long overdue.
It is expected that Comcast will appeal the ruling, since Comcast has taken the position that only Congress has the power to regulate such matters. In 2007 Congress rejected five separate legislative bills that would have given the FCC the power to police Net neutrality violations.
A summary of the order released by the FCC reads in part:
“The Commission announced its intention to exercise its authority to oversee federal Internet policy in adjudicating this and other disputes regarding discriminatory network management practices with dispatch, and its commitment in retaining jurisdiction over this matter to ensure compliance with a proscribed plan to bring Comcast's discriminatory conduct to an end.
Under the plan, within 30 days of release of the Order Comcast must -
• disclose the details of its discriminatory network management practices to the Commission
• Submit a compliance plan describing how it intends to stop these discriminatory management practices by the end of the year
• Disclose to customers and the Commission the network management practices that will replace current practices
In the event Comcast fails to comply with the steps set forth in the Order, interim injunctive relief automatically will take effect requiring Comcast to suspend its discriminatory network management practices. The matter will be set for an immediate hearing.”
Comcast did not help its own cause by publicly denying in August 2007 that it was filtering BitTorrent traffic. Several months later, after the Associated Press did some tests on Comcast content it was determined that Comcast was actually throttling BitTorrent after all, and Comcast had egg on its face as it had to admit to the FCC that it was blocking traffic.
Comcast’s competitors, including AT&T, then threw Comcast under the bus by issuing statements that they do not throttle peer-to-peer traffic at all.
Score one for Net neutrality.