Policy

Burke: Comcast Not Blocking VoIP Foes

3/11/2005 6:56 AM Eastern

Washington -- Comcast Corp. chief operating officer Steve Burke said Friday that the MSO does not and will not block competing voice-over-Internet-protocol providers from serving its cable-modem customers.

“We are not, nor would we block. I think that would be a terrible business decision,” Burke told reporters at National Cable & Telecommunications Association headquarters here.

According to a published report, Vonage Holdings Corp. -- a leading non-facilities-based VoIP provider with more than 500,000 customers -- is complaining that a cable company is blocking access.

The Information Week story did not name the cable company, only saying it was based in the Midwest. Vonage spokeswoman Brooke Shulz refused to confirm the story, name the cable company or confirm her own quotes in the story.

“It’s definitely not Comcast,” Burke said.

Comcast is rolling out VoIP service in 20 markets by the end of this year and across its 40 million-home footprint by the end of next year. The No. 1 MSO hopes to sign up 8 million customers within five years.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission effectively fined Madison River Communications LLC $15,000 for blocking competing VoIP traffic. Vonage had complained about such activity but never provided the name of the phone company. The FCC order involving Madison -- a rural phone company based in North Carolina -- did not mention Vonage by name.

A senior FCC official said Friday that it was unclear whether the agency has authority to punish a cable company that blocked a VoIP competitor. The FCC has classified cable-modem service as an unregulated information service, but the agency has historically classified phone-company broadband access as a telecommunications service subject to nondiscrimination safeguards for competing Internet-service providers.

The FCC’s cable-modem classification is now on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, where oral arguments are scheduled for March 29. A lower court, reversing the FCC, ruled that cable-modem service is both an information service and a telecommunications service.

“We don’t think we are going to lose,” Burke said. “We don’t think we deserve to lose.”

He added that the “vast majority” of Comcast customers would want the cable company’s high-speed-data service even if open-access rules ultimately applied to cable.

“If we don’t win, there are things we can do to open up our systems,” Burke said.

March