FCC Issues Formal Order on Comcast P2P Throttling

Today, the Federal Communications Commission issued its formal order censuring Comcast for throttling P2P traffic as part of its network management practices, requiring the ISP to report, within 30 days, details on how it plans to manage its network. GigaOM has followed the story for the past 10 months, and an end is finally in sight.

Nothing in the order is terribly new for anyone who paid attention to the Aug. 1 hearing on the topic, but you can bet lawyers from ISPs and public interest groups are right now poring over the FCC’s logic and justification for its action in this case to figure out how far network management practices can encroach on users. I was also glad to see that the FCC not only recognizes the threat Internet content may one day provide to cable companies’ video businesses but also believes that threat should be encouraged. I wonder if they’ll take up broadband caps in the future.

But back to this case. In short, last year Comcast messed with P2P traffic without telling its users, and some of that P2P traffic had the potential to compete with Comcast’s own cable offerings. In November the Free Press filed a complaint with the FCC. After two hearings and 6,000 public comments, the FCC decided such discriminatory and opaque network management practices were bad. From the order:

To the extent, however, that providers choose to utilize practices that are not application or content neutral, the risk to the open nature of the Internet is particularly acute and the danger of network management practices being used to further anticompetitive ends is strong.

The FCC didn’t make any new rules or impose any fines, but Comcast, duly chastised, plans to implement a kinder, gentler form of network management, which means it will slow traffic for any user hogging bandwidth during congested times of day. However, Comcast may choose to slow a heavy-user’s traffic for as long as 20 minutes. It seems likely that Comcast will appeal the order, although for now the company says it’s examining the order and evaluating its options. Somehow, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the complaints regarding network managment.