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FCC urged to stop Comcast Internet blocking

Several Net neutrality supporters have filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission to force Comcast to stop blocking peer-to-peer traffic.

Members of the Coalition and Internet scholars from Harvard, Yale and Stanford law schools filed a petition and complaint with the Federal Communications Commission Thursday in response to claims that Comcast is blocking some kinds of peer-to-peer traffic.

The complaint comes after the Associated Press discovered, based on its own testing, that content was blocked on several Comcast broadband connections using the peer-to-peer filing sharing network BitTorrent. Other Comcast users have also complained that their BitTorrent content has been blocked.

In their petition, the groups claim that Comcast is violating the FCC's Internet Policy Statement, which essentially states that consumers are entitled to access all applications, services and content of their choice. A footnote to the policy acknowledges that Internet service providers are able to engage in "reasonable network management."

The FCC issued its policy in 2005 after the FCC reclassified DSL and cable modem services as information services, which as a result eliminated "open access" requirements for phone companies and cable operators. The SavetheInternet Coalition was formed to urge Congress and the FCC to reinstate and enforce laws to prevent discrimination by these broadband providers.

Comcast denies that it blocks BitTorrent or any other kind of traffic, but the company believes that it does have the right to shape its traffic to manage its network.

"As the FCC noted in its policy statement in 2005, all of the principles to encourage broadband deployment and preserve the nature of the Internet are 'subject to reasonable network management,'" David Cohen, executive vice president for Comcast said in a statement. "The commission clearly recognized that network management is necessary by ISPs for the good of all customers."

But the groups filing the petition say, "No plausible technical or economic reason suggests that blocking particular applications is a reasonable way to manage a network."

The groups are asking the FCC to clarify its policy so that it specifically states that "intentionally degrading an application or class of applications is not 'reasonable network management' under the FCC policy statement."

"Last year, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and opponents of Net neutrality told Congress that the FCC has all the authority it needs to prevent exactly this sort of customer abuse by a major provider," Harold Feld, senior vice president of Media Access Project said in a statement. "Now we come to the acid test. Will the FCC, which vowed to protect our freedom to run the applications of our choice, stand up for citizens in the face of Comcast?"

But the truth is there isn't much that the FCC can do at this point. Under the current regulations and laws, the FCC has little to no power to do anything, even if it becomes blatantly obvious that Comcast is intentionally blocking traffic. The reason is simple. The FCC Internet policy is simply that. It's a policy. And there is no real enforcement muscle behind it that would require Comcast to do anything. So until a Net neutrality law is passed or the FCC imposes some kind of regulation or rule, which Chairman Kevin Martin has been adamantly opposed to doing, not much is likely to come of this complaint.

I'm working on a more in depth story on this subject that will be published later today or tomorrow, so stay tuned.