If nothing else, Comcast's announcement of its latest new best P2P friend earned the nation's largest cable company and Pando Networks, two-year startup with backing from Intel, a place at the table April 17 when the FCC holds an open hearing on Comcast's network management practices.
Comcast and Pando said April 15 that they plan to work with broadband providers and P2P vendors to establish industry best practices for dealing with P2P traffic. The end result, they hope, will be a so-called "P2P Bill of Rights and Responsibilities." Pando also co-chairs with Verizon the P4P Working group, another industry mashup of service providers and P2P technologies.
The FCC called the proposal "an interesting idea with potentially important implications for all Internet users," and promptly invited Comcast and Pando to its Comcast inquiry at Stanford University.
A complaint filed with the FCC claims Comcast's network management policy includes deliberate throttling of such P2P applications as BitTorrent during peak network hours, a practice that Comcast admits to. Comcast says its policy not only falls within the FCC's reasonable network management exception to the agency's network neutrality rules, it is also "imperceptible to the customer."
Comcast contends its practices are reasonable under FCC rules and even if the FCC found Comcast in violation, the agency has no authority to enforce the rules.
The deal with Pando is the second such alliance announced by Comcast since the FCC held its first Comcast throttling hearing in February. BitTorrent announced March 27 it was working with Comcast to address issues associated with rich media content and network capacity management.
According to Comcast, the Pando initiative will provide additional data to help Comcast "migrate to a protocol-agnostic network management technique by the end of this year." More importantly, Comcast contends, "the arrangement is yet another example of how these technical issues can be worked out through private business discussions and without the need for government intervention."
However, the FCC complaint against Comcast extends beyond hardcore network management issues. Vuze, a Silicon Valley video distributor using BitTorrent, claims Comcast throttles P2P because it competes with Comcast's own online video services.
"At Pando, we have always believed that good P2P applications give users control. Now we are committing to lead the industry in codifying that," Robert Levitan, CEO of Pando Networks, said in a statement. "By sharing the test methodology and results, all P2P companies and ISPs can learn how to more efficiently deliver legal content."
Comcast critics were unimpressed with the new alliance.
"Consumers cannot trust Comcast or any other phone and cable company with the future of the Internet. Comcast has thumbed its nose at the existing consumer bill of rights-the FCC's Internet policy statement guaranteeing access to all online content and services," Marvin Ammori, general counsel for Free Press, said in a statement. "Now facing unprecedented public, government and media scrutiny, Comcast is desperately trying to change the subject with a few over-hyped side conversations."
Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, called the Comcast idea of a P2P Bill of Rights "ludicrous."
"This so-called agreement is simply another way for Comcast to try to evade punishment for its blocking and degrading of peer-to-peer services for its customers," Sohn said. "As with the 'agreement' with BitTorrent, today's announcement is long on rhetoric and short on detail."
The FCC probe is the first test of network neutrality rules approved by the agency in 2005. The rules prohibit broadband providers from discriminating in the delivery of Internet traffic to customers, except for reasonable network management purposes.