NCTA, Comcast Weigh In on FCC’s Broadband-Network-Management Inquiry

Comments continued to pour in regarding the Federal Communications Commission's inquiry into broadband-network practices, with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association arguing that the marketplace, not regulation, is the best governor on those practices -- a point seconded by Comcast in comments explaining its much-criticized management of BitTorrent traffic.

The NCTA argued in its filing that the public interest is served by allowing network owners to manage traffic in order to provide the highest level of service to all customers.

The FCC is investigating complaints about network management, including against Comcast and Verizon Communications, and it is deciding what, if anything, it needs to do to toughen its open-access guidelines or clarify what is reasonable network management and what is unreasonable denial of access or discrimination against applications and services.

"Congestion issues are not unique to cable-broadband networks -- they are a constant issue for networks of every type," the NCTA filing said. "Wireline- and wireless-phone networks, airlines and roads all experience congestion at times of peak usage. And with all of these networks, simply 'building more' is not a complete solution. It is in the nature of networks to congest and it is the obligation of network owners to manage that congestion for the benefit of their customers."

The trade group added that such management is not censorship, as some network-neutrality activists have claimed, because it is source and content "agnostic."

Comcast also weighed in with an explanation of its network-management practices. There have been allegations that it blocked peer-to-peer traffic from users of BitTorrent.

The company told the FCC that its "very limited management of certain P2P protocols" was reasonable network management. It added that access to services like Joost, iChat and Veoh would "likely be impaired" if it did not take limited steps in limited areas at limited times (Comcast put all three "limited" in italic) to manage that traffic.

It likened that management to "the system saying that it cannot, at that moment, process additional high-resource demands without becoming overwhelmed, just as a traffic-ramp control light regulates the entry of additional vehicles onto a freeway during rush hour. One would not claim that the car is ‘blocked’ or ‘prevented’ from entering the freeway. Rather, it is briefly delayed, then permitted onto the freeway in its turn while all other traffic is kept moving as expeditiously as possible.”

Net neutrality backers Free Press took aim at the comments. Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press, which filed the complaint against the company, said that Comcast was  making a "desperate attempt to spin its Internet blocking," he said. "Cut through all the jargon, and this much is clear: Comcast isn't managing bandwidth hogs, it's undercutting competition.

The so-called network-neutrality issues that headed up the Hill's telecommunications agenda during the last Congress is heating up again.

House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) just introduced a bill to enshrine open-access principles in law and require the FCC to collect data and hold regular summits on the issue.

The FCC is also holding an en banc hearing at Harvard University later this month to hear from experts on broadband-network-management issues.

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.