Zoom Complaint Targets Comcast Modem Cert Process

Comcast sees a continuing effort to block its joint venture with NBCU in the filing Monday of an FCC complaint on behalf of modem supplier Zoom Telephonics. The complaint addresses what Zoom says is Comcast's "unreasonable, irrelevant, time-consuming and costly regime" for testing cable modems it allows to connect to the network.

Zoom argues that the process is not about preventing harm to Comcast's network since the FCC allows ISPs to restrict modem access in order to avoid such harm. Instead, said Zoom, it is about discouraging retail sales of modems in competition to Comcast's leased equipment (http://www.publicknowledge.org/files/docs/10-11-29Zoom_Complaint.pdf).

"Comcast is clearly violating FCC rules designed to encourage an open, competitive market for cable modems at retail," said Frank Manning, Zoom's President and CEO, in announcing the complaint. "This is especially dangerous given Comcast's position as the largest provider by far of cable modem service in the US."

Comcast says that the problem is not in its procedures, but because Zoom did not agree to safety testing of its device, and that it will be glad to explain that to the FCC, as it has to Zoom.

Responding to the complaint Monday, Comcast cited by name the two attorneys filing the complaint, which included former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who has been representing groups opposing the merger.

"Today, Patton Boggs attorneys Kevin Martin and Matthew Berry on behalf of their client Zoom Telephonics filed a complaint at the FCC regarding Comcast's certification of a Zoom modem manufactured in China," the company said in a statement. "This complaint was supported by groups which have been working closely with these attorneys to oppose the Comcast NBCU transaction."

Comcast said the goal of the process is to prevent harm. "Comcast wants to make sure devices our customers purchase at retail will work well and are safe, and we have not asked Zoom to submit to testing that is any different than what we ask of every other cable modem manufacturer we work with," the company said. "We even offered to let Zoom do the safety testing at their own Chinese manufacturing plants, but they refused this offer. As Zoom
decided not to take advantage of the courtesy we offered to simplify testing, we will be more than glad to explain to the FCC as we have already explained to Zoom how their refusal to permit any performance or safety testing of its device will harm consumers."

Opponents of the Comcast/NBCU merger were certainly treating the complaint as ammunition. Public Knowledge, Free Press, and Media Access Project sent out a statement Monday to the effect that the complaint showed that Comcast was violating the FCC's Internet openness guidelines.

"This is one more reason why the FCC should block the Comcast's acquisition of NBC," said MAP SVP Andrew Schwartzman.

"Not only has Comcast been caught once again violating the FCC's Net Neutrality policy statement - by blocking a consumer's right to use the modems of their choice - but the company has shown that it has no intention of keeping its own voluntary promise to abide by those policies as it seeks regulatory approval for its merger with NBC," added Free Press Research Director Derek Turner.

"This issue should certainly be raised in the context of conditions to be placed on Comcast's takeover of NBC-Universal," said Harold Feld.

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.