Taking Comcast To The Woodshed

The head of the FCC wants to punish Comcast for interrupting its users’ peer-to-peer transfers. But he doesn’t want to punish the ISP too much. Instead, he wants to make an example of the company so other ISPs know what not to do.

Sound confusing? That’s not half as confusing as some of the spin that’s emerged from Comcast since last fall when the Associated Press proved the company was hindering its customers from sharing files.

Although Comcast’s practices regarding file-sharing have come into question, file-sharing itself is not the issue. What has the FCC’s attention, as well as the interest of activist groups, is that by interrupting P2P transfers, the company has run afoul of the FCC-endorsed "net neutrality" concept that treats all data equally and says no company or service should have an advantage when traveling the information superhighway.

Comcast’s troubles started when Associated Press proved the company was often hindering P2P transfers in which one sender and receiver participated and both were Comcast customers. Comcast would send a signal to both effectively telling each party that the other had disconnected, thereby aborting the transfer.

While first denying it had blocked P2P transfers, Comcast eventually copped to "network management" methods that resulted in the interruptions. Now, after holding hearings on the subject, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says he wants to punish the company but does not want to fine it. Instead, Martin says he wants to make an example out of Comcast, perhaps by sanctioning the ISP.

"It doesn’t make the enforcement action less important," Martin said. "Oftentimes [what is] most important is to try to clarify what is allowed and what isn’t."

Along with ceasing the interruptions, Martin also wants Comcast to give details on past P2P disruptions, as well as what the company might do when it introduces a new traffic management plan later this year. The company is adopting a "protocol agnostic" form of network management where it will focus on all network traffic rather than only P2P activities.

Nine months after the Associated Press investigation, the ISP has yet to acknowledge any blocking attempts, often calling its actions "network management." The company has also said it uses "carefully limited measures" to handle traffic on its network.

Comcast cites a 2005 FCC policy statement where the commission established guidelines to guarantee that broadband networks are "widely deployed, open, affordable and accessible to all consumers." The commission’s policy statement said the guidelines are "subject to reasonable network management."

Comcast claims the FCC has never detailed what constitutes "reasonable network management," and as recently as July 11 a company spokesperson said the ISP has "consistently said that we don’t feel the policy statement is enforceable as rules."

Meanwhile, Martin is circulating a measure among the FCC commissioners recommending Comcast be punished. The measure is expected to come up for a vote during an FCC open meeting scheduled for August 1.


U2 Streams For Free On Imeem

Deluxe editions of U2’s first three albums – Boy, October and War – are now streaming on imeem.

The band’s first three albums have been remastered from the original audio tapes. As with last year’s remastered Joshua Tree, guitarist Edge oversaw the latest remastering of U2’s catalog material.

Working with Universal Music Enterprises, the deluxe versions of the band’s classic first three efforts also contain bonus material, including b-sides, live tracks and rare finds.

Among the extras on Boy, fans will find a previously unreleased mix of "I Will Follow" as well as the previously unreleased "Speed Of Life" and a live version of "Cartoon World" recorded in Dublin at National Stadium.

On October the goodies include live versions of "Gloria," "I Fall Down," "I Threw A Brick Through A Window," "Fire" and "October" recorded at London’s Hammersmith Palais. Other extras include remixes, Richard Skinner BBC Session material and concert recordings made in the United States and Netherlands.

Among the extras on War are unreleased tracks such as "Angels Too Tied To The Ground," a club version of "Two Hearts Beat As One" and a Common Ground remix of "Tomorrow."

Streaming the first three U2 albums is the latest high-profile project for imeem, which has already scored considerable success this year debuting albums and videos by Radiohead, Scarlett Johansson, New Order, The Rolling Stones, Avril Lavigne and Ray J.

The U2 / imeem hookup is yet another example of bands and labels harnessing the promotional power of the Web. By streaming the albums, Universal and U2 are not only creating an awareness that the band’s older material has been remastered, but are also making it extremely easy to listen to buy.

For example, in addition to streaming the albums, imeem is encouraging fans to embed the streams in their own blogs and social-networking pages, thus increasing awareness of the remastered albums. Of course, embedded streams make purchasing the CDs from imeem as easy as a mouse click.

Then there’s the advantage of presenting the band’s first three albums to a generation of music fans that weren’t around when the titles were first released. Not only will U2 and Universal sell the remastered CDs to longtime fans, they might pick up a sizeable new audience as well, thus enlarging the total fan base for years to come. That’s not a bad return from letting people listen for free.


Game On

While the recording industry looks for new revenue streams in a peer-to-peer world, one sector definitely showing a lot of potential is the video gaming biz.

With games like Harmonix Music Systems’ "Rock Band" and Activision’s "Guitar Hero" combining manual dexterity with songs by well-known bands and artists, it appears that electronic gaming platforms might be one of the big stories of the year when it comes to selling music.

The track list for the upcoming "Rock Band 2" reads more like a compilation of popular acts, with almost everyone that’s mattered over the past 30-plus years contributing a track, including AC/DC, Alanis Morissette, Bob Dylan, The Who, Beastie Boys, Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses and Pearl Jam. More than 80 acts will be represented when the game is released in September.

Metallica is one band that’s serious about gaming. The band’s upcoming album, Death Magnetic, will be released as a "Guitar Hero III" download the same day it lands in stores.

"It’s exciting, 27 years into your career, to be doing something first," said drummer Lars Ulrich. "In five to 10 years it’ll be a normal thing to release an album to ‘Guitar Hero’ the same day as the record."

Ulrich also pointed out that another benefit to music video games is exposing young audiences to rock’s heritage.

"Dad’s a little cooler than he was yesterday," Ulrich said. "I now have a 7-year-old whose favorite band is Mountain, and a 9-year-old who’s into Black Sabbath and Danzig. It’s a great way for kids to be exposed to stuff that transcends generation."