Gigs & Bytes: FCC Looking At Comcast
Speaking at the International Consumer Electronics Show, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the Commission will look at charges that Comcast Corp. actively hindered its subscribers trying to share files online.
“The question is going arise: Are they reasonable network practices?” Martin said while addressing an audience at CES. “When they have reasonable network practices, they should disclose those and make those public.”
Although this involves peer-to-peer file sharing, this isn’t a copyright issue. Instead, it involves a major ISP accused of interfering or blocking certain types of Net use by its subscribers. Although P2P is often mentioned in tandem with Internet copyright issues, many media companies are examining how file-sharing can help them distribute content, and Comcast’s alleged practice of slowing down or blocking P2P activity blocks legitimate as well as illicit file-swapping.
It started late last year when Comcast subscribers using BitTorrent P2P apps noticed problems when sharing files, leading the Associated Press to investigate claims that the ISP was blocking file-sharing activities.
AP found that Comcast was often targeting P2P swapping when it involved only one sender and one receiver. BitTorrent P2P operations usually involve many senders, each uploading a small portion of a file to a receiver. In such cases when there was only one sender, according to AP’s tests, Comcast would send a message effectively telling both sender and receiver that the other was breaking the connection.
At first, Comcast denied blocking file-sharing operations, but after AP published its test results the ISP admitted to “delaying” some of the traffic between file-sharers, claiming that it did so in order to improve service for the majority of its customers. Furthermore, Comcast claimed the practice was perfectly legit under the FCC’s policy statement regarding “reasonable traffic management.”
The FCC’s willingness to investigate Comcast is being seen as a test of the Commission’s policy regarding “Net Neutrality,” a concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.