Speed-Reading the FCC’s Comcast Order

With a disclaimer that we here at Sidecut Reports are not lawyers, we nevertheless offer you our speed-reading analysis of the FCC’s full order in the Comcast-BitTorrent case. While most of the top-level details have been known since the FCC’s Aug. 1 vote, the full order does contain a few nuggets we were able to find that may raise some new hackles — while emphatically supporting our opinion that this order is just the start of Phase II of the network neutrality debate, which should get fully underway in 2009.

While Comcast is busy publicizing its own plans for the future (to delay Internet traffic of heavy users), the most interesting information that we see the FCC’s order providing is its request (on Page 33) for Comcast to disclose exactly what kind of equipment it used in its BitTorrent-related management motions, when it was employed, under what circumstances it was used, how it was configured, and where it was deployed. Like we said earlier, we’re not lawyers but it’s probably not hard to guess that disclosing such a granular level of details about its network operations isn’t high on Comcast’s desired to-do list, and will likely be one area that the cable giant will challenge legally.

Or at least try to keep sealed, should Comcast decide not to challenge the FCC’s order in court. While some knowledgeable folks think that a Comcast appeal is a given, several sources we’ve talked to (none at Comcast) note that getting this particular relatively toothless order overturned may lead to some quick rulemaking next year that gives the FCC much firmer legal ground to police such actions. So is the devil you know better than the one you don’t? Fightin’ Joe Waz, the next steps are up to you.

Reading the order so you don’t have to: Feel free to skip the first 22 pages if you already know what this whole mess is about, and could care less about how the FCC justifies its jurisdiction in the case; that’s how long it takes the commission to set the scene, with lots and lots of footnotes that just make these things so hard to read. On page 23 we finally get to the meat, under the title “Resolving the Dispute.” This is where the FCC gets to rip Comcast’s saying that delaying packets isn’t blocking — “We thus find Comcast’s verbal gymnastics both unpersuasive and beside the point.” Smack!

Page 32 is where the most interesting stuff starts — as in, the Remedy. On page 33 you’ll find the “give us all your info” request, along with the “cease and desist” threats if Comcast doesn’t abide by the FCC’s ruling. (You wonder how the FCC would enforce this — “Mr. Roberts, tear down this coax!“) After that it’s just appendixes and bloviating by the commissioners, as if their words here mean more than their votes. Sidecut Take: Not worth your time.

What is worth reading if you need to know more about net neutrality is our recent report, Net Neutrality Phase II: The Battle of 2009. We promise, no footnotes to make you cry as you try to read. And a fun Top 10 list at the end! Order your copy today.

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