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FCC to Comcast: You have 30 Days
August 20, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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The FCC has released its 67 page order, which spells out in profound detail just how unacceptable it found Comcast’s discriminatory policy against the BitTorrent protocol. In fact, the order is so berating to Comcast that one would think it was written by the very BitTorrent uploaders the ISP sought to throttle. Today’s official order supplements the August 1, 2008, announcement by Chairman Kevin Martin, who agreed with public complaints that Comcast was in violation of net neutrality standards.

There’s some damaging verbiage from the Commission, to the delight of many BitTorrent users who felt slighted by the company’s management policy. Take for example the uncertain level of trust the Commission indicates. In the juicy part of the order, the FCC grants reasonable time for Comcast, but with a significant caveat.

“We also recognize the need for a reasonable transition period. In light of Comcast’s past conduct, however, we believe that the Commission must take action to ensure that Comcast lives up to its promise and will therefore institute a remedy consistent with President Reagan’s famous maxim 'trust but verify.'"

Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the FCC. This level of suspicion stems from the FCC’s finding that Comcast's management policy was not fully disclosed to the public. Only when Comcast was pressured did the company finally relent and state they were “delaying” upstream traffic. Although Comcast claims they have always disclosed their management policies, the FCC simply didn’t buy it.

“Comcast’s claim that it has always disclosed its network management practices to its customers is simply untrue.”

Now we have a government commission on record discrediting one of the country’s largest ISPs, a very severe punishment by itself. Further adding to Comcast’s burden, the ISP has 30 days from today to fulfill the following requirements:

"(1) disclose to the Commission the precise contours of the network management practices at issue here, including what equipment has been utilized, when it began to be employed, when and under what circumstances it has been used, how it has been configured, what protocols have been affected, and where it has been deployed;

"(2) submit a compliance plan to the Commission with interim benchmarks that describes how it intends to transition from discriminatory to nondiscriminatory network management practices by the end of the year; and

"(3) disclose to the Commission and the public the details of the network management practices that it intends to deploy following the termination of its current practices, including the thresholds that will trigger any limits on customers’ access to bandwidth."

The last requirement is key. Although Comcast is in the process of reforming its management policy, the exact criterion that engages its “delaying” tactics remains elusive. Divulging this information will greatly enhance the ability of P2P developers and users avoid and adapt to such tactics.

The FCC closes its discussion by encouraging the public to keep a watchful eye on Comcast’s compliance with the order.

“We invite Free Press and other members of the public to keep a watchful eye on Comcast as it carries out this relief.”

Many things in life can’t be guaranteed. But you can cross “BitTorrent apathy towards Comcast” off that list.

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