Hints that Digital Voice service should be regulated...
While a lot was made of the FCC's investigation and Comcast's shift to a "protocol agnostic" network management system, the FCC order didn't actually punish Comcast, came with no fine, offered no new guidelines, didn't request they do anything they didn't plan to do voluntarily, and might not even be enforceable in court. Still, Comcast has voluntarily changed from a system that throttled upstream P2P traffic for all users, to a new 250GB monthly cap and a new "protocol agnostic" de-prioritization system -- which we first profiled back in September
The new system de-prioritizes a user's connection if
a particular CMTS port is congested, and
if that user has been identified as a primary reason why. According to Comcast's filings
(pdf) with the FCC, they've deployed new hardware and software close to the company's Regional Network Routers (RNRs). This hardware will flip a user from the standard "Priority Best-Effort" traffic (PBE) to lower quality of service (QoS) "Best-Effort" traffic (BE) for fifteen minutes if they're a major reason congestion exists.
While the FCC had been quiet since Comcast's transition, the dispute may not yet be over. According to a new letter
(pdf), the FCC is surprised to learn that Comcast's new system impacts competiting VoIP products, but doesn't degrade the quality of Comcast's own Digital Voice service. From the letter by FCC General Counsel Matthew Berry, and FCC Wireless Competition Bureau Chief Dana Shaffer:
We request that Comcast explain why it omitted from its filings with the Commission the distinct effects that Comcast's new network management technique has on Comcast's VoIP offering versus those of its competitors. We also ask that you provide a detailed justification for Comcast's disparate treatment of its own VoIP service compared to that offered by other VoIP providers on its network.
In short, the FCC is arguing that Comcast's network management system is an anti-competitive weapon against independent VoIP. They're also arguing that because their Digital Voice service rides on a different layer from their broadband service and is not impacted by congestion management, it's technically a telecommunications service -- and subject to regulation and assorted fees. The FCC some time ago ruled cable and telco broadband were "information services," thereby freeing them from significant regulation.
It's curious the FCC would only realize the impact of such a system on competing VoIP now
, after months of debate, discussion and public hearings. While that could just be typical, glacial FCC dysfunction, it could also be a final farewell kiss blown to Comcast by departing FCC boss (and cable industry nemesis) Kevin Martin. It could also be an indication that Comcast's life under a Democratically-controlled FCC will be no easier. Regardless, it's a sign that Comcast's network neutrality debate with the FCC is not over yet.