July 11, 2008 | By Peter Eckersley

FCC Chairman Hints at Order Against Comcast

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin sent a signal today that the FCC may issue an order against Comcast in the wake of the scandal over their use of packet forgery to interfere with BitTorrent, Gnutella, and other Internet protocols.

EFF worked with Robb Topolski to run the first controlled tests of Comcast's RST forgery practices last year. We've been following the issue closely since then, and believe that Comcast's decision to switch to less discriminatory network management practices represented a victory for transparency, for an open network, and for common sense.

We are now waiting to see what precise steps the FCC decides to take. There is a lot at stake. On one hand, Comcast was clearly out of line. If ISPs decide that they can arbitrarily interfere with or degrade some of the applications that their users decide to run, they are giving themselves the power to veto or approve innovation on the Internet. Comcast was assigning
itself this veto power, and attempting to do so in secret.

On the other hand, we must be vigilant for unintended consequences from federal regulation of network management practices. Any rule that restricts the way the Internet can operate must be read upside down, backwards, and inside out to ensure that it won't turn out to prevent good engineering that nobody has thought of yet. We are also concerned that regulatory steps
by the FCC could stretch the limits of the Commission's statutory authority; we would feel more comfortable if Congress had clearly considered, allowed, and bounded FCC jurisdiction in this space.

Chairman Martin has indicated that he does not want to fine Comcast, but would order them to cease interference in a timely fashion, report on where and when interference has been occurring, and report on the details of their future traffic management plans. As specific outcomes, these are fair — and leadership to improve transparency is what we asked the FCC to provide — but the jursidictional issues will require careful analysis. The FCC is planning to vote on its actions on the 1st of August, and we'll follow up with more when there is precise language for an Commission decision.


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