Comcast Faces Class-Action Suit from D.C. Data Subscribers

A class-action suit on behalf of all of Comcast's high-speed-Internet customers in Washington, D.C., was filed against the nation's largest cable company for allegedly misleading advertising.

The suit, similar to one filed last fall in California, claimed that the company advertised unfettered access to the Internet while at the same time it was fettering peer-to-peer traffic, which, it claimed, is an illegal deceptive practice under D.C. consumer-protection laws.

"Comcast advertises and represents that it provides the ‘fastest Internet connection’ and ‘unfettered access to all of the content, servicesand applications that the Internet has to offer,’” law firm Gilbert Randolph alleged in the complaint. "These representations allegedly are false because Comcast intentionally blocks or otherwise impedes its customers’ access to peer-to-peer file-sharing applications.”

The complaint was filed in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of a Dr. Sanford Sidner, as well as everyone else who subscribed to Comcast Internet service over the past three years, saying that they paid for a service they did not receive.

The suit came as Comcast is being investigated by the Federal Communications Commission over complaints that it blocked the distribution of some content over the BitTorrent P2P file-sharing application.

Comcast countered that it does not block any content, but it has used reasonable network management -- which the FCC allows, although it has not been defined -- to keep some P2P file transfers at peak times from degrading service for other customers, a fact it said it discloses to customers as a term of service.

The suit seeks $1,500 per violation, attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.

Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice confirmed that the cable operator was served with the suit but would not comment on it. But she did reiterate that the company "does not, has not and will not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services," adding, "no one has demonstrated otherwise."

The issue of what companies should be allowed to do to manage their broadband networks was the subject of an FCC hearing Monday during which a Comcast executive was grilled by FCC chairman Kevin Martin over the company’s management/impeding of P2P traffic.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.