FCC To Investigate Comcast, Verizon
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin says the regulatory agency will investigate allegations that Comcast interferes with p2p Internet traffic. He also said Verizon Wireless would be under the microscope after complaints the company blocked text messages from an abortion rights group.
Bloggers, the Associated Press (AP) and also the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) busted Comcast for interfering with BitTorrent traffic last year. Comcast denied blocking, but admitted to delaying torrent traffic in a practice known as traffic shaping.
Whether anything is eventually done about it remains to seen. Martin told an audience at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that the FCC would "investigate and make sure that no consumer is going to be blocked."
If that sounds like Net Neutrality lip service, it would match his track record on the matter. In the end, it will depend on whose definition of "blocked" Martin and the FCC adhere to, and implied prevention says nothing about retroactive punitive measures.
And in case you’ve missed it, Martin hasn’t historically been a fan of Net Neutrality principles, but talks a good game when under pressure from advocates.
Nonetheless, critics view it as a positive step forward. Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press, the organization that filed a complaint in November, said, "We are encouraged by the Chairman’s statements today about investigating Comcast’s blocking of peer-to-peer traffic.
"We hope the Chairman’s statements, made two months after we filed our complaint, will lead to immediate and accelerated action at the FCC on the critical issue of whether Comcast, AT&T and other Internet service providers can block the services people want to use. The FCC must stop these would-be gatekeepers and fine companies that censor the free flow of information."
The AP reports that a coalition of consumer groups and legal scholars are pushing for a fine of $195,000 for every affected subscriber. If the definition of "affected" includes all of Comcast’s 9.1 million subscribers, that could total $1.77 trillion.
Which seems a bit excessive.
It will be an important test, though, of the FCC’s commitment to enforcing Network Neutrality principles and for defining limits on how ISPs can manipulate traffic on their networks. Though consumers want ISPs to be the equivalent of "dumb pipes" – SaveTheInternet.com defines as: offering a high-speed connection at reasonable rates and then getting out of our way – ISPs are increasingly looking for better control of data that comes across their networks.
Just as Chairman Martin was making his pledge to investigate at CES, New York Times blogger Brad Stone, from the same conference, reports that James Cicconi, senior vice president, external & legal affairs for AT&T, expressed his company’s (and the industry’s) cooperation with entertainment organizations like the MPAA and the RIAA to find better ways of policing pirated content at the network level.
That means that AT&T, just like the Justice Department, want to sniff around data packets for illegal material, an ability privacy, censorship, and Net Neutrality advocates all sound the alarm about.
Filtering for copyrighted content, in addition to the privacy concerns and the precedent it sets for ISPs’ right to differentiate content and to turn over information to authorities, could also threaten legally protected "fair use" of copyrighted content, which allows such content to be used for criticism, satire, commentary, and other legitimate purposes without permission.