It was a rare day Aug. 1 for public advocates of network neutrality: an actual regulatory victory that found Comcast guilty of unfairly blocking P2P applications and failing to adequately disclose its network management policies to consumers.
In a 3-2 vote, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) ordered Comcast to stop blocking traffic, disclose to the FCC the full extent of the cable giant's traffic practices and to keep the public informed of its future network management plans.
More importantly, the FCC showed it is willing to fight for an open network when it comes to the Internet.
"Defying every ounce of conventional wisdom in Washington, everyday people have taken on a major corporation and won an historic precedent for an open Internet," Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, said in a statement. "Today's order makes it clear that there is nothing reasonable about restricting access to online content or technologies."
Silver's Free Press and Public Knowledge brought the case against Comcast after tests by the Associated Press and others showed that Comcast blocks users' legal P2P (peer to peer) content. Comcast claims it was only engaging in the reasonable network management practices allowed by the FCC.
Both Comcast and BitTorrent, the P2P app that was the target of Comcast's traffic throttling, have settled their differences, but as FCC Chairman Kevin Martin noted, "The complaint was brought forward on behalf of consumers."
"Today's order makes it clear that there is nothing reasonable about restricting access to online content or technologies," Silver said. "Moving forward, this bellwether case will send a strong signal to cable and phone companies that such violations will not be tolerated."
Maybe. Comcast, which has already stated it believes the FCC does not have the regulatory authority to enforce its network neutrality principles, issued a statement only minutes after the FCC decision, declaring that it is "considering all our legal options."
Barbara Esbin, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Communications and Competition Policy at the Progress & Freedom Foundation, added, "It is perplexing--and therefore worrisome--that a government agency has intervened in a technical dispute involving appropriate management of Internet traffic when the dispute was settled and the companies involved have pledged to work collaboratively in the future."
Not good enough, insisted Martin.
"If legal content is arbitrarily degraded or blocked, and the defense is 'network management,' the broadband operator must show that its network management practice is reasonable," Martin said. "The specific practice Comcast was engaging in has been roundly criticized and not defended by a single other broadband provider."
Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, pointed out, "Comcast's throttling of legal Internet traffic had nothing to do with network management as the company claims. It had everything to do with a big company trying to exert its power over a captive Internet market."
Open Internet Coalition Executive Director Markham Erickson rushed his own statement out after the FCC vote, stating, "The FCC order will send a message to entrepreneurs and innovators that their inventions will be able to work on any broadband connection, without first seeking permission of a cable or telephone company."