FCC’s Comcast Wrist-Slap Official; What Comes Next?

As expected, the FCC went through with its wrist-slap of Comcast today, voting 3-2 in favor of calling Comcast naughty for its BitTorrent-throttling efforts. Here’s the official release from the FCC, which basically tells Comcast to stop using the management techniques in question, explain its techniques more clearly to the FCC and to users, and to detail how it will do things differently in the future.

Wow, some penalty!

Given that Comcast has already publicly stated that it doesn’t use the packet-reset technique anymore, and is moving to more open, protocol-agnostic measures, some of today’s action may seem like a moot point. But while the order itself may not amount to much, it is significant as a turning point in the overall network neutrality debate — serving as a marker of where the issue turned from theoretical to discussions of a more practical nature about what reasonable network management might be, how it might be disclosed, and who might best adjucate potential complaints or infractions going forward. We will explore all these bigger themes as well as the expected legal, legislative and regulatory tussles coming in 2009 in our upcoming Sidecut Report on net neutrality, which should be available early next week. (If you want an email update when the report is available, ping me at kaps at sidecutreports.com.)

In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a quote from FCC chairman Kevin Martin, courtesy of the Twitter stream from our pal Drew Clark, who attended the meeting:

If we aren’t going to stop a company that is looking inside its subscribers’ communications, blocking that communication when it uses a particular application regardless of whether there is congestion on the network, hiding what it is doing by making consumers think the problem is their own, and lying about it to the public, what would we stop?

Good question!

Other reports: Stacey over at GigaOM has a comment from Comcast; Declan McCullagh at C/Net has some more details on the legal underpinnings of the order; we have received the public statements from both Verizon and AT&T, which both laud the FCC for its decision and go on to say that clearly, no new net neutrality regulations or laws are needed. And Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent us a note that also praised the decision but ended with the following statement:

I intend to continue monitoring practices in the industry and pressing for passage of my legislative framework for addressing these issues in the months ahead.

To answer your question — yes, the network neutrality debate is back with us again. Get ready for Phase II!


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