FCC Asks if Comcast Slows Rivals' VoIP Traffic

Looks like Comcast’s new network management plan is drawing the ire of competing Voice over IP providers and the scrutiny of federal regulators. The plan, which is detailed here, basically slows bandwidth hogs broadband speeds during times of congestion at a particular node. Apparently, it also has the unfortunate side effect of lowering voice quality for VoIP services — including those offered by Comcast’s competitors. More interestingly, Comcast advertises that its own digital calling service (a variation on VoIP) is unaffected by such network slowdowns, and the FCC wants to know why.  In a letter filed on Sunday, the FCC asks Comcast:

We request that Comcast explain why it omitted from its filings with the Commission the distinct effects that Comcast’s new network management technique has on Comcast’s VoIP offering versus those of its competitors. We also ask that you provide a detailed justification for Comcast’s disparate treatment of its own VoIP service as compared to that offered by other VoIP providers on its network.  In particular please explain how Comcast Digital Voice is “facilitites based,” how Comcast Digital Voice uses Comcast broadband facilities, and, in particular, whether (and if so, how) Comcast Digital Voice affects network congestion in a different manner than other VoIP services.

Comcast has until Jan. 30 to respond to the FCC, and a spokeswoman said the cable provider was reviewing the letter. In an emailed statement she said, “We have fully complied with the FCC’s order regarding our congestion management practices.”

My guess from talking to other cable voice providers is that Comcast will make a distinction between VoIP traffic that travels across the public Internet and its own digital voice service, which Comcast tries to route across its own broadband pipes. Looks like Comcast will have to rev up its marketing machine before the new Commission to explain how this version of network management is better than its previous P2P throttling efforts. The Commission wasn’t impressed last time; will Comcast’s arguments pass muster with the incoming regulatory team?

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