Comcast on the Defensive

Two weeks before the Federal Communication Commission meets to decide whether or not to issue an enforcement order against Comcast for throttling peer-to-peer traffic, not-for-profit group Free Press has accused the ISP of throttling P2P traffic not only when the network is congested, but whenever that traffic reaches a predefined level. Sort of like a golf club that allows a certain number of women in to keep the activists at bay, but no one beyond that number, even if the links are empty.

Free Press also said Comcast’s most recent network upgrades were a sham, with the cable company upgrading modems, but nothing in the core network. The interest group filed its statements with the FCC in response to filings Comcast made defending itself against the enforcement action. As Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice noted to me, the company has consistently admitted that it “manages traffic” (although it denies blocking it altogether). She also said that the ISP has a threshold beyond which it manages P2P traffic, but that 90 percent of the P2P traffic is unaffected by that management.

She added that on a particular node, 80 percent of managed traffic goes through in less than a minute. Of the portion that takes longer, she said, some of it may get dropped “for a reason unrelated to our management.” As for allegations related to the network upgrades, Fitzmaurice pointed out that the service is advertising network speeds rather than capacity. Free Press notes this later in its filing, but still thinks it’s a misleading practice. After all, what’s the point of having a fast car on a congested highway?

This sort of he-said, she-said back and forth between Comcast and the public interest group illustrate why it’s so important for the FCC to set up some clear rules regarding how an ISP manages its network. When things get this shady, it’s time to set some policies down in black and white.

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