In the first major test of the FCC's (Federal Communications Commission) network neutrality principles, the agency found Comcast guilty Aug. 1 of secretly degrading network traffic. On a 3-2 vote, the FCC 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.
The FCC said Comcast violated the agency's Internet policy when it blocked P2P traffic by BitTorrent. The agency also found that Comcast misled consumers when it did not properly disclose its P2P policy.
Voting for the sanctions were Republican Chairman Kevin Martin and Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. Republicans Robert McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate opposed the measure.
"Comcast was delaying subscribers' downloads and blocking their uploads," Martin said. "It was doing so 24/7, regardless of the amount of congestion on the network or how small the file might be."
Martin insisted the FCC's actions are not about regulating the Internet.
"Indeed, I have consistently opposed calls for legislation or rules to impose network neutrality," Martin said. "Like many other policy makers and members of Congress, I have said such legislation or rules are unnecessary, because the Commission already has the tools it needs to punish a bad actor."
McDowell, though, said the FCC does not have the rules in place to enforce network neutrality. Comcast also contends its practices are reasonable under FCC rules and even if the FCC found Comcast in violation, the agency has no authority to enforce its network neutrality principles. "The FCC overreaches with this order," McDowell said.
Copps called the vote a landmark decision for the FCC.
"Discrimination, per se, is not illegal," Copps said. "Unreasonable discrimination, though, is."
In August 2005, the FCC declared that consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice and plug in and run legal devices of their choice. The FCC also said consumers have a right to competition among network providers, application and service providers and content providers.
Copps called for a fifth FCC network neutrality principle.
"A clearly stated principle of non-discrimination would prove the FCC is not having a one-night affair with network neutrality," Copps said. "The non-discrimination principle would also apply to wireless and wireline to assure all the freedoms of the Internet to everyone."