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FCC set to punish Comcast on P2P blocking

Three of the five commissioners reportedly vote in favor of punishing Comcast for allegedly slowing or blocking file-sharing traffic on its network.

Comcast FCC public hearing
The five FCC commissioners grill Comcast representatives at a public hearing held in Cambridge, Mass., earlier this year. Anne Broache/CNET News

The Federal Communications Commission appears poised to take steps to punish Comcast for allegedly blocking access to file-sharing traffic.

Three of the five FCC commissioners have voted in favor of an item saying Comcast violated federal policy by dialing down peer-to-peer traffic over its network, according to FCC officials cited in The Wall Street Journal.

The news isn't much of a surprise, given that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has publicly criticized Comcast for the practice and recommended to the rest of the commissioners that they vote in favor of the decision.

"The commission has adopted a set of principles that protects consumers' access to the Internet," the Associated Press quoted Martin saying earlier this month. "We found that Comcast's actions in this instance violated our principles."

If the punishment comes through, which is all but assured now, Comcast wouldn't be fined. But it would be ordered to stop blocking or slowing traffic to peer-to-peer sites like BitTorrent, explain to consumers and the commission how it has blocked such traffic in the past, and publicly disclose how it plans to manage its network in the future.

Comcast hasn't denied slowing traffic to file-sharing sites. At a public hearing in February, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said, "Comcast may on a limited basis temporarily delay certain P2P traffic when that traffic has or is projected to have an adverse effect on other customers' use of the service."

However, Cohen did deny blocking such sites outright, saying, "Comcast does not block any Web site, application, or Web protocol, including peer-to-peer services, period. What we are doing is a limited form of network management objectively based upon an excessive bandwidth-consumptive protocol during limited periods of network congestion," he explained.

A final ruling on the issue is expected to come at a commission meeting scheduled for August 1.