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FFC Chairman Responds

Federal Communications Commission Chair Kevin Martin said today that he was "disappointed" by Comcast's decision to sue the FCC over its move to sanction the company for P2P throttling. But Martin said he's glad that the cable giant says it will still comply with the Commission's Order requiring the company to reveal its Internet management policies, because the agency has lots of questions.

"Given Comcast's past failure to disclose its network management practices to its customers, it is important Comcast respond to the many still-unanswered questions about its new management techniques," Martin warned in a statement released this afternoon. Most notably, what exactly does Comcast mean when it says it will have a "protocol agnostic" management system in place by the end of the year?

And as for the bandwidth limits that Comcast has now announced: "How will consumers know if they are close to a limit?" Martin asked. "If a consumer exceeds a limit, is his traffic slowed? Is it terminated? Is his service turned off?"

Anticipating Comcast's arguments that the FCC has no jurisdiction to sanction its behavior, Martin reminded the company that when the FCC approved it and Time-Warners' acquisition of Adelphia Communications in July of 2006, the FCC "put Comcast on notice" that it would act on complaints of degraded Internet content. "Comcast nonetheless chose to close on that deal," Martin noted.

The FCC still wants answers, Martin's statement concludes. "Perhaps more importantly, Comcast's subscribers deserve to know the answers."

Other critics of Comcast's traffic-management practices responded to the news with varying degrees of bravado and anxiety.

Gig Sohn of Public Knowledge said that PK expected Comcast to appeal the FCC's decision. "The company opposed it every step of the way, even as they failed to disclose their throttling of Internet traffic," Sohn stated. "We believe the Commission will prevail and the rights of Internet users will be protected."

The question, of course, is whether they will prevail in this particular court case. The Open Internet Coalition's (OIC) press release warns that Comcast's appeal may "roll back" the progress that the FCC made in its Order. The move also raises questions "whether the Commission's Broadband Policy Statement, guaranteeing consumers the right to access content and applications of their choice over the 'Net, has the force of law." The OIC statement calls on Congress to provide leadership on the issue.

While Free Press's Ben Scott also calls Comcast's actions "predictable," his comments concur that Capitol Hill has to address the problem. "The future of the Internet is too important to let Comcast tie it up in legal limbo," Scott said. "Congress should act now to pass net neutrality laws that clear up any uncertainty once and for all."

This case will now go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has a long history of dealing with FCC controversies, in some instances siding with the Commission.

In June of 2006 the DC Circuit famously upheld the FCC on the constitutionality of its enforcement of the Communications Assistance Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which requires private ISPs to open their networks to the cops. In May of this year the DC Circuit yet again backed the FCC, this time rejecting Sprint's bid to delay a plan to reorganize the 800MHz spectrum band's public safety region.

Both times the court upheld the FCC's statutory right to enforce its rules, the big question that Comcast will doubtless raise when the matter comes to the bench.
 

· Beware the Attack Basset
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Comcast needs to revamp their pricing model to be traffic sensitive above a threshold (or thresholds).

I'm of the opinion that the Internet is not public property. Rather, it is more like a theme park. Every ISP must be mindful of the load they put on the Internet.

Comcast may seem to be alone in this at this point, but they are most certainly not. Comcast's peers know that if Comcast falls, they will be next.
 

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I have no problem with tiered services and limits.
However, I'd like to know what those tiers are and what the limits are. And I'd like to know how much I've used and how much I have left.
This way I can make informed decisions about who I want my ISP to be.

Arbitrary and vague sanctions imposed by the ISP and at their discretion are unacceptable.

Content and protocol limits or filters are not acceptable to me under any circumstances.
One foot in the door with something like that can lead to all sorts of bad things.
Imagine the likes of Rupert Murdoch controlling what we see and hear on the net the way he does on television and in print.

Imagine large advertisers and special interests squashing opinions, views, and competitors before they every gain a foothold in the marketplace.
 
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