Martin: Comcast Degraded, Blocked P2P Content

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin told the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday that testimony suggested that Comcast was degrading and blocking peer-to-peer content, and not just where the traffic was bottlenecked.

That came in a hearing on the future of the Internet.

The FCC is currently considering a complaint against Comcast that it was targeting P2P application BitTorrent.

Martin said the commission had not yet concluded whether Comcast violated its Internet-nondiscrimination principles, but it appeared that the cable operator used equipment to block access by pretending to be a user's computer and "falsifying" a reset packet. He added that it was not simply used to delay traffic at certain nodes where traffic was heavy, and it blocked uploads "regardless of congestion."

Several legislators pointed out that even if the agency did conclude that Comcast violated the principles, Comcast has said that the FCC does not have specific authority to take actoin against that violation. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) asked why Congress shouldn't step in and help the FCC by clarifying that it does have that authority.

Martin said he was concerned that such a step would impede reasonable discrimination, like prioritizing voice traffic. He added that he thought Congress already gave the agency that authority, and that virtually every action the FCC takes winds up in court.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow, who also testifed at the hearing, came to Comcast's defense. He said that while it was reasonable to talk about whether current network management techniques were the best, discussions he said cable operators were having themselves, there was no evidence of any anti-competive conduct by any network operators. He said that not only does the cable industry support the FCC's Internet policy principles, but embodies them.

Comcast was not responding directly to Martin's characterization, but it did point out in a statement responding to the hearing that "Comcast does not, has not and will not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services.”

The cable operator added, "We have acknowledged that we manage peer-to-peer traffic in a limited manner to minimize network congestion. While we believe this network management was a reasonable choice, we are now working with a variety of companies in the Internet community and confirm our March announcement that we will move to a protocol-agnostic network-management technique no later than Dec. 31, 2008."

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.