Public advocacy groups and legal scholars from Yale, Harvard and Stanford filed a network neutrality complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against cable giant Comcast Nov. 1. The complaint sets the stage for the first major test of the FCC's network neutrality principles.
The complaint claims Comcast, which has nearly 13 million Internet customers and is the country's second-largest broadband provider, is actively interfering with its users' ability to access legal content by cutting off peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as BitTorrent and Gnutella, as well as business applications such as Lotus Notes.
Comcast, headquartered in Philadelphia, denied the accusations but admitted the week of Oct. 22 that it does delay some Internet traffic in the interests of "reasonable network management."
"The FCC should act immediately to enjoin Comcast's secret discrimination and, even before deciding the merits, issue a temporary injunction requiring Comcast to stop degrading any applications," the complaint states. "Upon deciding the merits, the Commission should issue a permanent injunction ending Comcast's discrimination."
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The complaint asks the FCC to establish that blocking peer-to-peer communications like BitTorrent violates the agency's Internet Policy Statement, four principles issued in 2005 that are supposed to "guarantee consumers competition among providers and access to all content, applications and services."
Although the principles do not carry the force of law, the FCC said when issuing them, "Should we see evidence that providers of telecommunications for Internet access or IP-enabled services are violating these principles, we will not hesitate to take action to address that conduct."
The complaint to the FCC was filed by Free Press, Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, Charles Nesson of Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Barbara van Schewick of Stanford Law School.
Free Press and Public Knowledge also filed a separate complaint against Comcast, seeking a fine against the company of $195,000 per customer.
"The Commission has a choice," Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, in Washington, said in a statement. "It can either protect consumers from the abuses of telephone and cable companies, or it can walk away and let the telephone and cable companies chip away at the free and open Internet little by little until they can control consumer use of the network as they please."
Peer-to-peer file-sharing technology is widely known for giving users the ability to illegally share copyrighted films and music, but the technology is also used in a number of legal ways, including distributing movies.
"Comcast's blatant and deceptive BitTorrent blocking is exactly the type of problem advocates warned would occur without net neutrality laws," Ben Scott, policy director at Free Press, also in Washington, said in a statement. "Our message to both the FCC and Congress is simple: We told you so, now do something about it."
Comcast was unavailable for comment, and the FCC does not comment on active complaints.
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