FCC Declares Comcast’s Filtering Illegal

'Landmark' decision more of a moral victory

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It’s official, as far as the FCC is concerned, that Comcast’s throttling of peer-to-peer traffic was illegal and in violation of the FCC’s network neutrality principles. The highly expected ruling came down today, with Chairman Kevin Martin crossing the political aisle to join commissioners Copps and Adelstein, serving Comcast with a cease-and-desist order.

Don’t expect it to be the last word, though. The ruling, as it is, is more of a symbolic victory. Comcast will not be fined, but is ordered to stop interfering with subscribers’ access to peer-to-peer networks, something the cable giant already volunteered to do in April when things started getting hot. The ruling requires Comcast to disclose the details of its discriminatory management practices, submit a compliance plan about how it will stop these practices by the end of the year, and disclose the network management practices that will replace the current ones.

And if they don’t? Well, let’s let the current battle go to the courts before we worry about that. In 2006, the Republican Congress five times rejected bills giving the FCC the authority to enforce network neutrality, and a Supreme Court ruling also declared the FCC had no authority to act unless Congress gave the agency that authority. Political opponents on the other side have argued the FCC does indeed have the authority, granted under the Communications Act.

Definite authority is included in the proposed Internet Freedom and Preservation Act, which has yet to pass. Until then, the FCC believes it can indeed punish Comcast and other ISPs for net neutrality violations. So what we have facing is a true test of authority rather than a concrete victory for nondiscrimination.

Commissioner Copps made a curious comment, after the 3-2 vote, acknowledging discrimination wasn’t necessarily illegal, but "unreasonable discrimination" is. Comcast initially denied interfering with p2p traffic and was made a liar by the Associated Press; Comcast then admitted to interfering, but not blocking, only during peak hours. More independent tests showed Comcast was blocking at all times of day, on par with China.

Perhaps that’s what Copps meant by "unreasonable" discrimination. Copps took it one step further, calling for a fifth FCC network neutrality principle regarding non-discrimination, applied to both wireless and wireline services to "prove the FCC is not having a one-night affair with network neutrality."

In order to get merger approval, AT&T and BellSouth had to commit to the existing four principles, which Martin said then the FCC had no authority to enforce. His sudden reversal on that is, to say the least, interesting, and shows perhaps he embraces the Communications Act as granting the commission the authority it needs.

Martin, though, doesn’t see it as a reversal. Instead, he sees it as in line with how he has always felt. "Indeed, I have consistently opposed calls for legislation or rules to impose network neutrality," he said. "Like many other policy makers and members of Congress, I have said such legislation or rules are unnecessary, because the Commission already has the tools it needs to punish a bad actor."

Martin has an eight-year history of boneheadedness, though, and if detractors are right, legislation would be required to give the FCC the proper authority. Today’s ruling comes down, then, as a symbolic measure to show the agency’s willingness to go to bat for network neutrality principles, complicated politics aside. It’s a slap on the wrist to be sure, but it is something network neutrality proponents can sink their passionate teeth into.

Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, the organization behind SaveTheInternet.com, called the enforcement order a landmark decision and a victory for "everyday people."

"Defying every ounce of conventional wisdom in Washington, everyday people have taken on a major corporation and won an historic precedent for an open Internet," he said. "Today’s order makes it clear that there is nothing reasonable about restricting access to online content or technologies. Moving forward, this bellwether case will send a strong signal to cable and phone companies that such violations will not be tolerated."

FCC Declares Comcast’s Filtering Illegal
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  • Guest

    While happy for this decision, I grow weary everyday that passes befor the rightwing idealogs at the FCC and their bosses at the White House find some way to undermine the Net Neutrality laws already in place.

    As for Comcast doing what they did and/or still will do I had some issues back a couple of months ago when I was trying to get on gregpalast.com, mediamatters.org, and goleft.tv where it took forever for these sites to load up but other sites like google.com, yahoo.com, and foxnews.com (which I check only to see what crap they made up on a given day) would load up instantly…..

    I used to have Insight but Comcast bought them out.  I never asked for Comcast, I never wanted them but because I have my cable and phone and interenet packaged together….. I can’t afford to go in three seperate directions as Comcast is the only provider of all three at the same time.

    We need to save the last hope of the truth being found or seen by supporting any legislation that strengthens Net Neutrality laws!

    captfoster – see me at mmfa.org as well

  • Jim Wilshireford

    The FCC is like a Doberman with no teeth! LOL, real scary LMAO!!




  • Charles Douglas Wehner

    There is no net neutrality.

    Heavy censorship already exists on the Web, particularly when people are posting articles on the Newsgroups that challenge government "policies", such as the invasions of Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

    When politicians get busy creating an "Internet Freedom and Preservation Act", it generally has a platitude as its title, but is intended to deliver the exact OPPOSITE.

    "This is (Internet) Preservation Week. It’s like what you have to do when you run for office – you’ve got to PRESERVE". — George ‘Dubya’ Bush.

    Charles Douglas Wehner


    • Guest

      We need more public input to let government know what we want and they should realize that we are the government. What we say should, go in a Canadian Society. We need government to take troops out of foreign countries and start protecting our citizens first and when they can say there are no more drugs cartels, no more gambling casinos, and no more poverty then they could ask Canadians if we should help another country.

      Ask the people in those countries if they don’t think we should clean up our act before making judgments against their ways of governing. If they had a look at what is really happening in Canada do you think they would want us putting our views on their people. They would surely tell us to go home and look after our citizens first.



  • Guest

    The latest “problem” is Comcast blocking SMTP from DHCP Netblocks that supply dynamic IP addresses to their customers. See
    http://www.spamhaus.org/pbl/query/PBL191876 for an example.

    They are forcing their customers to use Comcast SMTP servers or pay for Business Class service. This is all under the banner of preventing SPAM from bots infection their customers PCs. They already have blocking processes for infected customers. Money grab plain and simple. It would be nice to see the FCC grow some backbone.

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