FCC to Investigate Comcast Blocking Complaint

The probe will be the first major test of the agency's network neutrality principles. 

The Federal Communications Commission plans to investigate the network neutrality complaints filed against cable giant Comcast. The investigation will be the agency's first major test of its network neutrality principles.

The complaint, which was filed in November by public advocacy groups and legal scholars from Yale, Harvard and Stanford, charges Comcast with 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.

Read more here about the net neutrality suit.

"Sure, we're going to investigate and make sure that no consumer is going to be blocked," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Jan. 8 during a panel discussion at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Comcast, which has nearly 13 million Internet customers and is the country's second-largest broadband provider, denies the charges but admitted that it does delay some Internet traffic in the interests of "reasonable network management," according to the Associated Press.

"The question is going to arise: Are they reasonable network practices?" Martin said. "When they have reasonable network practices, they should disclose those and make those public."

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 the distribution of movies.

Martin added that the FCC will also investigate charges that wireless carriers are discriminating in their treatment of text messaging. In September, Verizon Wireless was caught blocking text messages from the pro-abortion group NARAL Pro-Choice America. Blaming the initial decision to block the messages on an "incorrect interpretation" of company policy, the nation's second largest wireless carrier quickly reversed its decision.

A petition filed with the FCC on Dec. 11 claims: "Mobile carriers currently can and do arbitrarily decide what customers to serve and which speech to allow on text messages, refusing to serve those that they find controversial or that compete with the mobile carriers' services."

"I tell the staff that they should act on all of those complaints and investigate all of them," Martin told the CES audience.

Martin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press, one of the groups filing the Comcast complaint, praised Martin's comments.

"We are encouraged by the chairman's statements today about investigating Comcast's blocking of peer-to-peer traffic," Ammori said in a statement. "We hope the chairman's statements, made two months after we filed our complaint, will lead to immediate and accelerated action at the FCC on the critical issue of whether Comcast, AT&T and other Internet service providers can block the services people want to use."

Ammori added, "The FCC must stop these would-be gatekeepers and fine companies that censor the free flow of information."