Martin Accuses Comcast of Widespread Throttling

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2008-04-22

Martin Accuses Comcast of Widespread Throttling

WASHINGTON -- Comcast is throttling more traffic than it has previously admitted, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin told a U.S. Senate panel April 22. Martin also told lawmakers it appears Comcast broadband customers are not free to access all content on the Internet, including the ability to fully use peer-to-peer networks.

Martin's comments come after two FCC hearings on charges that the nation's largest cable provider deliberately throttles P2P applications such 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 FCC's network neutrality rules, but it is also "imperceptible to the customer."

Martin refuted Comcast's claims, telling the Senate Commerce Committee, "It does not appear that this technique [throttling] was used only to occasionally delay traffic at particular nodes suffering from network congestion at that time."

According to Martin, the testimony so far presented to the FCC indicates Comcast's efforts at managing P2P traffic "is typically deployed over a wider geographic or system area and would therefore have impacted nodes within a system simultaneously."

Comcast's technology, Martin added, "blocks the uploads of at least a large portion of subscribers in that part of the network, regardless of the actual levels of congestion at that particular time."

Martin also said he had no fix on when Comcast will actually stop using its current approach, although Comcast said it plans to move to a "content-agnostic" platform available for up to 20 percent of Comcast's customers by the end of the year. One of the primary network neutrality complaints against Comcast is that it singles out one program over another.

"They claim that they will deploy this solution by the end of the year, but it is unclear whether they will be finished deploying their solution or just starting that migration," Martin said. "Indeed the question is not when they will begin using a new approach, but if and when they are committing to stop using the old one."

Comcast quickly issued a statement claiming the company "does not, has not, and will not block any websites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services. We have acknowledged that we manage peer-to-peer traffic in a limited manner to minimize network congestion."

A Comcast spokesperson added, "While we believe this network management was a reasonable choice, we are now working with a variety of companies in the Internet community and confirm our March announcement that we will move to a protocol-agnostic network management technique no later than Dec. 31, 2008."

Martin Accuses Comcast of Widespread Throttling

title=Best Practices or Regulation?} 

Last week, Comcast and Pando Networks said 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 deal with Pando is the second such alliance announced by Comcast since the FCC held its first throttling hearing in February. BitTorrent announced March 27 it is working with Comcast to address issues associated with rich media content and network capacity management.

Even if the FCC rules against Comcast, the cable provider contends the agency does not have the legal authority to enforce its network neutrality principles.

"It is settled law that policy statements do not create binding legal obligations," Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen wrote in a March filing with the FCC. "Indeed, the Internet Policy Statement expressly disclaimed any such intent."

Despite Martin's comments on the Comcast case, he told lawmakers, "I do not believe any additional regulations are needed at this time because we have a complaint and adjudication process."

When pressed on Comcast's veiled legal threat to challenge any network neutrality violation finding, Martin noted, "Almost everything we do at the FCC is ultimately challenged in court."


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