US: FCC to Rule Comcast Can't Block Web Videos

Decision Could Set Precedent In Debate Over Internet Traffic
Publisher Name: 
Wall Street Journal

Washington -- Federal regulators are set to announce this week that Comcast

Corp. wrongly slowed some of its customers' Internet traffic, in a
victory for consumer groups and high-tech companies that have fought to
keep Web traffic free from interference.

The Federal Communications Commission will rule that
the cable giant violated federal policy by deliberately preventing some
customers from sharing videos online via file-sharing services like
BitTorrent, agency officials said. The company has acknowledged it
slowed some traffic, but said it was necessary to prevent a few heavy
users from overburdening its network.

The decision, expected Friday, would set an important
precedent in the continuing fight about how far phone and cable
companies can go to make more money from their Internet networks. Cable
and phone companies are experimenting with new ways to deal with people
who use a lot of bandwidth, including "Internet metering" -- charging
customers for the amount they use.

The FCC decision is likely to be challenged in court;
if upheld, it would affirm the agency's right to play online cop and
make sure Internet providers don't interfere with online traffic. FCC
officials have grown more concerned about the issue as consumers watch
more online videos, which take up growing chunks of bandwidth.

On Friday, a majority of the five FCC commissioners
voted in favor of finding that Comcast violated federal policy by
slowing some Internet traffic. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a
statement that he believes it's important that all consumers have
"unfettered access to the Internet."

The FCC will require Comcast to stop blocking or
slowing traffic and better disclose its practices to customers. Comcast
has already done most of what the agency is asking, and won't face a
fine. But the FCC's investigation has had a chilling effect on other
providers' efforts to find ways to make more money from their networks,
such as providing faster service to commercial partners.

The FCC's action stems from a complaint filed last
November that accused Comcast of blocking subscribers from using some
file-sharing services.

Comcast said it has to do something about the small
percentage of subscribers who swap large files on peer-to-peer networks
because they use a disproportionate amount of bandwidth. Comcast said
it didn't violate federal rules and argued that the FCC doesn't have
the authority to enforce a set of "net neutrality" principles it passed
in 2005.

"We continue to assert that our network-management
practices were reasonable, wholly consistent with industry practices
and that we did not block access to Web sites or online applications,
including peer-to-peer services," said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast
spokeswoman.

Write to Amy Schatz at Amy.Schatz@wsj.com

AMP Section Name:Technology & Telecommunications
  • 208 Regulation