F.C.C. Rules Against Comcast

Last year Comcast slowed BitTorrent traffic on its network because, it said, BitTorrent file transfers consumed inordinate bandwidth.  Advocacy groups Free Press and Public Knowledge complained about the practice to the F.C.C., presenting one of the first legal challenges to violation of the principals of net neutrality, the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated the same.  Net neutrality is a core value embodied in the original architecture of the Internet, and its preservation is considered by many to be essential to maintaining the Internet’s vitality.  On Friday the F.C.C. ruled 3-2 against Comcast and ordered it to cease blocking BitTorrent traffic by the end of the year.  F.C.C. Commissioner Kevin Martin said after the ruling ““We are preserving the open character of the Internet. . . We are saying that network operators can’t block people from getting access to any content and any applications.”  Saul Hansell reported in the New York Times the dissent, among other things, argued “that Comcast’s systems were a legitimate method of managing the capacity of the network and not an attempt to disadvantage rivals.”  Comcast is expected to appeal the ruling, which may spur Congress to enact legislation protecting net neutrality.  Hansell reports that “[c]uriously, representatives from other telecommunications companies praised the decision, even though they objected to the commission meddling in how they manage their networks. They said they would prefer such rulings to legislation from Congress . . .” because legislation would likely provide the telecoms with little wriggle room.  The F.C.C. decision, on the other hand, deals only with Comcast’s specific BitTorrent blocking and does not establish broad precedent.

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