Consumers Union, others urge FCC to act immediately...
A coalition of consumer groups urged the FCC today
to investigate and punish Comcast for their traffic shaping practices. We've been talking about Comcast's use of Sandvine gear to disrupt BitTorrent traffic since August
, but an AP report last month quickly thrust the topic into the mainstream. That attention led to Internet-wide criticism of Comcast, and gave network neutrality advocates new ammunition in a debate that had quieted down of late.
Among the groups urging the FCC to act are the Free Press, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports), Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and professors at Yale, Harvard and Stanford law schools. In a complaint
(pdf) filed by Free Press, the group asks the FCC to penalize Comcast to the tune of $195,000 per subscriber
. From the complaint:
Comcast, the number two provider of high-speed Internet access, has been secretly degrading peer-to-peer protocols. Degrading these protocols undermines innovation and violates the FCC’s Internet Policy Statement, whose four principles guarantee consumers access to the content, applications, and services of their choice, as well as access to competition among network, applications, and content providers.
Given the current economic philosophy (and industry fealty) of the FCC majority, it would be very
surprising if the commission does anything substantive to thwart Comcast's traffic shaping. The policy statement
(pdf) cited by Free Press is not law, and the FCC and Comcast will simply argue Comcast's practices fall under the realm of "reasonable network management."
More succinctly, if you don't like it, vote with your wallet, because your government has been purchased. Of course, this assumes you have a choice of competing broadband services. But be assured, a government that allows its Department of Justice to be turned into a phone industry PR department
is not focused on consumer welfare when it comes to network neutrality."Comcast’s defense is bogus,"
says Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press. "The FCC needs to take immediate action to put an end to this harmful practice. Comcast’s blatant and deceptive BitTorrent blocking is exactly the type of problem advocates warned would occur without Net Neutrality laws. Our message to both the FCC and Congress is simple: We told you so, now do something about it."
While many ISPs traffic shape, Comcast's practices have come under particular scrutiny because the ISP has not been forthcoming about specifics, and in some cases denied the practice altogether. Comcast has also employed monthly download limits without clarifying those limits to consumers, something that recently got Verizon Wireless in trouble
with the NY Attorney General.
Consumer groups argue that Comcast's use of forged TCP packets to disrupt BitTorrent traffic is a dangerous precedent if allowed to continue. Given that Comcast video competitors use the protocol to deliver content to end users, it's likely a valid worry. Still, if we know the current FCC, it's going to take an outright blocking of content or services to get them to act -- something ISPs have carefully avoided.