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Comcast: Bloggers keep us honest

Comcast has recently cited bloggers as a major source of checks and balances in an FCC filing. Is oversight from the blogosphere really enough?

Chris Soghoian
Christopher Soghoian delves into the areas of security, privacy, technology policy and cyber-law. He is a student fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society , and is a PhD candidate at Indiana University's School of Informatics. His academic work and contact information can be found by visiting www.dubfire.net/chris/.
Chris Soghoian
2 min read

After months of lying and evading our questions, Comcast seems to have developed a love affair with the blogosphere. Is this an early Valentine's Day present for bloggers, or is the company up to its usual tricks?

Comcast has gotten into a bit of hot water with the Federal Communications Comission over its widely criticized anti-BitTorrent filtering. The FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced the agency's plans to investigate Comcast last month, stating that "the question is going to arise: Are they reasonable network practices?" He added that "when they have reasonable network practices, they should disclose those and make those public."

For the last month, the FCC has accepted public comments in response to a Free Press petition that will examine whether "degrading peer-to-peer traffic" violates FCC rules for reasonable network management.

Most interestingly, in a recent 80-page filing with the FCC, Comcast claims that bloggers are a sufficient enough check and balance that the agency doesn't need to get involved.

The self-policing marketplace and blogosphere, combined with vigilant scrutiny from policymakers, provides an ample check on the reasonableness of such [network management] judgments.

We at Surveillance State are flattered by Comcast's praise. Regular readers will perhaps remember that this blog was the first to argue that Comcast's actions were illegal and that the company could face lawsuits as a result of its shady filtering. We were also the first to get a politician to discuss the issue on record, in which uber-Representative Rick Boucher blasted the cable company for its sly tactics.

Comcast's gushing praise for bloggers aside, this is clearly a self-serving act on the part of the cable giant. The company repeatedly lied to bloggers and members of the press for months about its BitTorrent filtering. It was only once the Associated Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation published independent studies that proved that Comcast was engaged in shady network behavior that the company finally fessed up, mostly. Comcast still refuses to admit that its blocking connections or forging packets, and instead sticks to its claim that it is merely delaying connections temporarily.

Bloggers and activists should not need to reverse engineer network filtering technologies in order to figure out when and how a company is engaging in shady network behavior. Comcast needs to be open with its customers about what its doing -- so that the free market can work, and consumers can vote with their wallets when they dislike an ISP's practices. Comcast has recently made a token gesture in this direction, by amending its terms of service to at least admit that filtering happens.

Comcast's past behavior with BitTorrent are clearly unfair and deceptive business practices. While bloggers should be commended for shining a light on the corporation's dirty tricks, this is an area where the government really needs to get involved. The free market simply cannot work when companies lie and distort the truth.

Hat tip to Cynthia Brumfield over at IP Democracy for finding the we-love-bloggers comment buried in Comcast's filing.