FCC’s Martin Pleased Comcast ‘Reversed Course’ On P2P

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said he was “pleased that Comcast reversed course” in deciding to work with BitTorrent, but added that the operator should commit to a specific date when it will stop throttling back individual applications.

The FCC’s other commissioners reacted favorably to Comcast’s initiative to make peer-to-peer applications work more efficiently across its broadband network infrastructure.

“We will need to learn more details about the recent agreement between BitTorrent and Comcast, but it is encouraging that broadband providers are listening to the chorus of consumer calls for open and neutral broadband Internet access,” FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said in a prepared statement. “These discussions should continue with other applications providers and the broader Internet community.”

Commissioner Robert McDowell commented, “I am delighted to learn that BitTorrent and Comcast have reached a resolution to their dispute...As I have said for a long time, it is precisely this kind of private-sector solution that has been the bedrock of Internet governance since its inception.”

Meanwhile, FCC commissioner Michael Copps said the Comcast announcement “confirms my belief that the FCC needs to play a proactive role in preserving the Internet as a vibrant place for democratic values, innovation and economic growth... I am confident that, through this process, the FCC can come up with clear rules of the road that will benefit American consumers and provide much-needed certainty to both network operators and Internet entrepreneurs.”

Martin, in a statement, said he hopes “the negotiations to which Comcast commits today will result in a solution that preserves consumers’ ability to access any lawful Internet content and applications of their choice.”

But, he noted, “Comcast has not made clear when they will stop this discriminatory practice...While it may take time to implement its preferred new traffic management technique, it is not at all obvious why Comcast couldn’t stop its current practice of arbitrarily blocking its broadband customers from using certain applications.”

Said Martin, “Comcast should provide its broadband customers as well as the Commission with a commitment of a date certain by when it will stop this practice.”

Comcast said it would migrate by the end of 2008 to a bandwidth-management technique that is “protocol agnostic,” meaning it will impose traffic limits on those users who consume the most bandwidth instead of on specific applications like BitTorrent.

In response to Martin’s comments, Comcast senior director of corporate communications and government affairs Sena Fitzmaurice e-mailed a statement: “This agreement and discussions show that the best way to deal with these issues is through a collaborative process in the marketplace rather than with legislative or regulatory intervention. To be clear, Comcast does not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services.”

The FCC has scheduled an April 17 hearing at Stanford University concerning the network management practices of broadband service providers, a follow-up to its meeting on the topic at Harvard Law School last month.

The agency is investigating Comcast’s bandwidth-management practices at the behest of several public-interest groups. Martin has said he expects the FCC to issue a ruling in the matter by June 30.

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