Comcast Sued Over Peer-to-Peer Delays

A Comcast broadband subscriber in the San Francisco area filed a lawsuit against the nation’s biggest cable operator, alleging the company “intentionally and severely” impedes the use of peer-to-peer file-sharing applications.

California resident Jon Hart sued Comcast for breach of contract, alleging that while the operator advertises “mind-blowing” speeds and “unfettered access to all the Internet has to offer,” it uses network-management techniques that slow down file-sharing programs “to a mere crawl or stop[s] them altogether.”

The suit, filed Nov. 13 in California Superior Court for the County of Alameda, seeks unspecified monetary damages for the “recovery of fees paid by customers who paid for service they did not receive” and to force Comcast to stop limiting network access to peer-to-peer applications. Hart is seeking class-action status for the suit.

Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas said the company had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.

According to an Associated Press report Wednesday, Hart decided to sue Comcast after reading the wire service’s Oct. 19 article describing the operator’s practice of delaying connections among peer-to-peer applications, including BitTorrent. Experts say such so-called P2P programs are largely used for distributing illegally copied movies, music, TV shows, software and other content.

Responding to the earlier AP story, Comcast issued a statement that it “does not, has not and will not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services.” At the same time, the operator acknowledged that it uses bandwidth-management techniques “to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience.”

Hart’s lawsuit asserted that none of the terms of service agreements for Comcast’s high-speed Internet service state that the operator “can or will impede, limit, discontinue, block or otherwise impair or treat differently” peer-to-peer file-sharing programs.

According to the suit, Hart in September 2007 upgraded to Comcast’s High-Speed Internet Performance Plus service, which offers up to 16-megabit-per-second downloads and 786 kilobit-per-second uploads, in order to use peer-to-peer file-sharing programs with the expectation that he would receive unconstrained bandwidth.

Earlier this month, a coalition of consumer groups and law professors asked the Federal Communications Commission to make Comcast stop interfering with file sharing, with two of the groups asking the FCC to fine Comcast $195,000 for each affected subscriber.

The FCC’s 2005 Internet Policy Statement encourages the “open and interconnected nature of the public Internet,” subject to “reasonable network management” practices by service providers.