Comcast Denies Net Neut Violations

Network management techniques don't equal discriminatory practices, the cable giant contends. 

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Network management techniques for handling peer-to-peer applications don't violate the Federal Communications Commision's network neutrality principles, Comcast said this week in its first extended response to charges that the cable giant is engaging in discriminatory traffic practices.

According to a complaint filed with the FCC by P2P developer Vuze, Comcast "is attempting deliberately to degrade and, at times, block content from Vuze and other Internet companies that use similar P2P technology."

Vuze officials said they believe that other broadband network operators are engaging in similar tactics. Free Press and a coalition of other public advocacy have also filed a similar complaint with the FCC against Comcast, the nation's number-two broadband provider, with 12 million subscribers.

"The carefully limited measures that Comcast takes to manage traffic on its broadband network-including its very limited management of certain P2P protocols-are a reasonable part of Comcast's strategy to ensure a high-quality, reliable Internet experience for all Comcast [customers]," Comcast said in a Feb. 13 FCC filing.

As it has since reports first surfaced last year that Comcast was blocking or slowing the uploading and downloading speeds of lawful applications and content, Comcast said it does not "block any content, application, or service; discriminate among providers; or otherwise violate any aspect of the principles set forth in the [FCC rules]."

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.

"Notwithstanding the enormous capacity and flexibility of the cable infrastructure, there are (and always will be) some throughput limitations," Comcast wrote in the filing. "Because these P2P protocols are designed to devour any and all available bandwidth on the network, it is not possible to build one's way out of the need for reasonable network management."

Because of those limitations, Comcast contends it is perfectly legal under the FCC rules for broadband providers to "throttle"-blocking or slowing the uploading and downloading speeds-of applications like BitTorrent.

Comcast said throttling techniques constitute reasonable network management. "These critical decisions should not be based on the demands of the vocal minority who make the most noise in public forums, but on what is needed to serve the best interests of all Internet users," the company said.

The overriding issue for broadband providers, Comcast claims, is not that all customers be able to use bandwidth indiscriminately without regard to other customers' needs, but how to optimize every customer's online experience.

"Network management that is reasonable and done for the benefit of subscribers is critical to every broadband service provider's ability to offer its customers the quality and reliability subscribers demand and expect," Comcast wrote.

Vuze complains that Comcast's actions exceed reasonable network management.

"While Comcast has apparently justified its actions as legitimate 'network management' or mere traffic 'shaping,' Vuze believes that such overbroad and clandestine attempts to interfere with traffic-regardless of the legality of the content or the specific impact on the network-cannot amount to 'reasonable network management.'"

Vuze wants the FCC to put "reasonable boundaries on the operators' gatekeeper power over applications and content."