Martin Pushes Comcast to Set ‘Date Certain’ on Network-Management Changes

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin Thursday called on Comcast to provide the commission with a "date certain" for stopping the practice of "arbitrarily blocking certain applications on its network," which Martin said the company had admitted doing.

Comcast countered that it had done nothing of the sort. "To be clear, Comcast does not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services," spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said.

That came after Comcast announced an agreement with BitTorrent to work toward a solution for distributing high-bandwidth content like movies and TV shows without disrupting the consumer experience for all broadband subscribers.

Complaints about Comcast's network management as it regarded the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol have been the subject of FCC complaints and Hill hearings as the issue of "network neutrality" has heated up in Washington.

"I hope that 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," said Martin, who has been critical of Comcast over the issue. "That ability is fundamental to preserving the open marketplace and innovation that characterizes the Internet."

But Martin was not happy with the timetable for a solution to the problem of managing high volume. Comcast said it would institute a "protocol-neutral" management system by the end of the year.

"I am concerned, though, that Comcast has not made clear when they will stop this discriminatory practice," he added. "It appears that this practice will continue throughout the country until the end of the year and, in some markets, even longer. 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."

Martin said the FCC would remain "vigilant" in ensuring that Internet surfers have access to legal content and application.

Fitzmaurice said that the marketplace would work things out, adding, "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. "

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.