Comcast to Modify Disputed Network PracticesBy Reuters - | Posted 2008-03-27 Email Print
Despite Comcast's stated claim to change its Internet-access blocking practices, the FCC will continue to investigate broadband providers practices.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cable operator Comcast Corp promised on Thursday to change how it manages its network in response to accusations it blocks some Internet file-sharing services because they require large amounts of bandwidth.
But Comcast's move did not go far enough to satisfy the top U.S. communications regulator. Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, vowed to continue investigating the management practices of broadband providers and whether they discriminate against certain applications.
Comcast, which has more than 13 million broadband subscribers, said it would adopt a new technique for managing capacity on its network by the end of 2008. The new practice will not discriminate among different applications.
The cable giant has been accused by consumer groups of blocking some file-sharing services, such as BitTorrent, that distribute TV shows and movies on the Internet.
"This means that we will have to rapidly reconfigure our network management systems, but the outcome will be a traffic management technique that is more appropriate for today's emerging Internet trends," Comcast Chief Technology Officer Tony Werner said in a statement.
Comcast said it planned a "collaborative effort" with BitTorrent and the broader Internet and ISP community to work out a growing dispute over how far Internet service providers should go in managing traffic moving over their networks.
The dispute over so-called "net neutrality" pits open- Internet advocates against some service providers such as Comcast, which say they need to take reasonable steps to manage growing traffic on their networks.
The FCC has been investigating complaints from consumer groups that Comcast blocked some file-sharing services. The issue also has attracted scrutiny from lawmakers in Congress.
Comcast has denied impairing any Internet applications and has said it merely manages the system for the good of all users. But the FCC's Martin said at a March 7 FCC hearing he was disturbed Comcast did not disclose more to customers and application developers about the way it manages network traffic.
Comcast's announcement on Thursday drew a tepid response from Martin.
The FCC chairman said in a statement he was "pleased that Comcast has reversed course." But he questioned why the company was not moving more quickly to end the practice of blocking some applications.
"While it may take time to implement its preferred new traffic management technique, it is not at all obvious why Comcast couldn't stop its current practice of arbitrarily blocking its broadband customers from using certain applications," Martin said.
The FCC is scheduled to hold another hearing on the issue at Stanford University next month, where Martin said the commissioners would "explore more fully what constitutes reasonable network management practices."
Martin's two fellow Republicans on the five-member commission were more upbeat about the Comcast move, saying a cooperative approach was preferable to government regulation.
"The private sector is the best forum to resolve such disputes," said commissioner Robert McDowell.
But Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps agreed with Martin, saying the FCC should continue to pursue the issue. He said Comcast's concessions would not have come without pressure from the FCC.
"I am confident that, through this process, the FCC can come up with clear rules of the road that will benefit American consumers and provide much-needed certainty to both network operators and Internet entrepreneurs," Copps said in a statement.
(Reporting by Peter Kaplan; Editing by Brian Moss/Andre Grenon)
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