(Adds background; when to expect a decision on Comcast)
By Peter Kaplan and Clare Baldwin
WASHINGTON/STANFORD, Calif., March 7 The head
of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Friday he
finds some of the practices that Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) uses to
manage its broadband network "troubling."
The FCC is looking into complaints from consumer groups
that Comcast has blocked some file-sharing services, such as
BitTorrent, that distribute TV shows and movies, and Chairman
Kevin Martin said he was disturbed Comcast did not disclose
more to customers and application developers about the way it
manages traffic on its network.
"One of the most important and one of the most troubling
aspects of the complaints in front of us is that at first the
network operator denied that they were engaged in this kind of
a practice publicly," Martin said at a conference at Stanford
University Law School.
Martin expected a decision on the Comcast complaint by the
end of June.
A spokeswoman for Comcast, which has more than 13 million
broadband subscribers, had no immediate comment about Martin's
But in a recent filing with the FCC, Comcast said that
revealing details about its network management practices would
allow software developers to circumvent legitimate traffic
management and create "risks to network security and the
potential for a degraded experience for all users."
The company has denied impairing some applications and
reiterated that it merely manages the system for the good of
all users, but Martin expressed concern about a practice that
made certain Comcast actions appear "like it was coming from
The dispute over so-called "network neutrality" pits
open-Internet advocates against some service providers such as
Comcast, who say they need to take reasonable steps to manage
traffic on their networks.
In 2005 the FCC adopted a set of network neutrality
principles. But Comcast has questioned whether those principles
can be used as enforceable rules.
Martin stressed the agency has not completed its
investigation or taken any final action on the case. But he
said it would look closely at how much network operators
disclose about their practices to developers and consumers in
evaluating what constitutes "reasonable" network practices.
One issue the FCC has not yet commented on is whether
network operators could offer a "fast lane" versus "slow lane"
and enter into agreements with developers to dedicate bandwidth
to certain applications. This is separate from the issue of
network management, but raises the same questions of fair
treatment and disclosure.
Martin said the key question will be whether such practices
are really aimed at avoiding network congestion and whether
network operators are treating all similar applications in the
same way. Ultimately, he said, the market should regulate
itself but the FCC may need to lay the ground rules.
"I have in the past testified several times that the
commission is ready, willing and able to take action on any
(complaints). And I think that that is what we will end up
doing," Martin said. "And I think that will set an important
precedent going forward.
(Editing by Gary Hill; Editing by Andre Grenon)