The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved an enforcement order against Comcast, requiring the company to stop blocking and slowing Internet traffic and to publicly disclose its network management practices.
The FCC's vote was the first time the agency formally ordered an Internet service provider to comply with network neutrality guidelines and disclose how it manages traffic. The ruling comes after critics complained (PDF) that Comcast targeted and deliberately slowed specific applications. It concludes an FCC investigation and hearings into the matter.
Although members of the FCC said Comcast blocked traffic during off-peak times, the company has maintained that it only slowed or blocked traffic to alleviate congestion. The Associated Press also reported that Comcast appeared to block or slow peer-to-peer file sharing.
In March, Comcast said it would create "protocol-agnostic network management" methods and switch to them by the end of the year. The company also announced joint efforts with BitTorrent, Pando Networks, and Vonage to improve network management and adhere to the P2P Best Practices Initiative created by the Distributed Computing Industry Association.
Comcast issued a statement saying it was pleased that the FCC did not find that the Internet service provider's conduct merited a fine. Sena Fitzmaurice, senior director of corporate communications and government affairs for Comcast, said the deadline established in the order is the same self-imposed deadline that Comcast announced four months ago.
"On the other hand, we are disappointed in the commission's divided conclusion because we believe that our network management choices were reasonable, wholly consistent with industry practices, and that we did not block access to Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services," she said. "We also believe that the commission’s order raises significant due-process concerns and a variety of substantive legal questions. We are considering all our legal options and are disappointed that the commission rejected our attempts to settle this issue without further delays."
Fitzmaurice said Comcast carefully manages its networks so all customers have a "high-quality Internet experience," including limited management of peer-to-peer (P2P) protocols upstream to relieve congestion.
"The overwhelming majority of the estimated nine billion TCP P2P flows that cross Comcast's network in a typical day are unaffected by Comcast's network management," the company said in a statement. "About 6% to 7% of Comcast's high-speed Internet subscribers use P2P on a weekly basis."
Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts spoke about network management this week and said the company disagreed with the commissioners' findings. He said the company's techniques were reasonable and consistent with industry practices.
"We have never blocked any Web sites or any applications, as some of the articles have suggested," he said.
Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, called the FCC vote a major victory.
"Defying every ounce of conventional wisdom in Washington, everyday people have taken on a major corporation and won an historic precedent for an open Internet," he said.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative Office, said Comcast "violated the rules by which the Internet must operate if it is to remain an open forum."