Comcast vs. Your Torrents: A Recap

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has finally decided that he’s had it with Comcast’s BitTorrent blocking. As the AP first reported last night, Martin has drafted an order to punish the cable giant for its “arbitrary” interference with its customers’ Internet access. The draft will be sent to Martin’s fellow commissioners today, and the commission will cast a vote on Aug. 1st. Comcast has denied the accusation, as Stacey is reporting on GigaOM, calling its network management efforts “carefully limited.”

Others obviously disagree. The media reform group Free Press, whose complaint prompted the FCC’s investigation, applauded Martin’s decision, saying that consumers were “poised for victory.” The group also called the development an “historic test” of the FCC’s Net Neutrality guidelines. That’s at least one point on which Free Press and Comcast seem to agree, with the cable giant complaining in its statement that the FCC had “never before provided any guidance on what it means by ‘reasonable network management.’” Apparently this really is history in the making — so let’s take a look back and see how it all came about.

May 2007: First reports about Comcast interfering with BitTorrent appear on DSLReports.com.

August 2007: Articles about Comcast customers that can no longer upload any data via BitTorrent find their way to blogs and mainstream media publications. Comcast issues a denial.

October 2007: The AP tries to distribute a bible through BitTorrent on multiple Comcast accounts and fails, concluding that the ISP “actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online.” Comcast issues a denial.

Comcast issues an internal talking points memo to its customer service personnel about dealing with the increasing number of consumer inquiries about BitTorrent blocking. The memo is leaked to Consumerist.com.

November 2007: Consumer groups petition the FCC to stop Comcast’s BitTorrent blocking. Comcast denies any interference in a statement to the FCC. A Comcast customer files a lawsuit against the company.

December 2007: BitTorrent-based P2P media platform Vuze.com petitions the FCC as well.

January 2008: The FCC starts its inquiry. Comcast issues a denial.

February 2008: Comcast changes its Terms of Service to include a reference to “reasonable network management technologies”. NewTeeVee reports that other major cable companies like RoadRunner and Cox have similar language in their TOS, essentially allowing them the same type of BitTorrent blocking.

The FCC holds a public hearing about the issue. Comcast pays attendees to “save seats.”

March 2008: Comcast strikes an agreement with BitTorrent Inc. that includes a commitment to switch to protocol-agnostic network management later this year. In the meantime, the company continues to block BitTorrent.

April 2008: Comcast teams up with multiple P2P companies to champion consumers’ rights, continues to block BitTorrent.

May 2008: Sandvine publishes details about new ways of network management championed by Comcast.

July 2008: FCC chairman Kevin Martin proposes to punish Comcast for its continuing BitTorrent interference.

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