Kevin Martin Tries To Thread The Needle In Sanctioning Comcast

from the a-little-of-this-and-a-little-of-that dept

As was widely expected, FCC boss Kevin Martin has come out saying he believes Comcast violated FCC rules in its traffic shaping program, and he's recommending that the FCC sanction, but not fine, Comcast and order it to stop its traffic shaping (something it's already planning to do). Kevin Martin's favoritism towards the telcos is well known -- so it comes as no surprise that he'd come out against Comcast. He's given every indication that such a move was in the cards. However, the lack of a fine -- combined with telling Comcast to do what it was already doing -- is an interesting move. If anything, it may be an attempt by Martin to quietly assert control over cable and hope that the cable industry doesn't fight back.

Whether or not the FCC's mandate really does include cable is an open question -- and the cable companies have at least a decent claim to the fact that their systems are not covered by the FCC. So, here's a situation where the FCC is slapping Comcast's wrist in such a way that Comcast is unlikely to mind -- but if it "agrees" to the response, then it may be effectively admitting that the FCC does have a say in how cable companies operate, which could open quite a Pandora's box in terms of the FCC's overall mandate.

There is, of course, a simpler way out of this that no one appears to be taking. The real problem most people had with Comcast's actions was that it wasn't at all transparent about them -- continually insisting that they weren't doing anything. Effectively, Comcast may have been guilty of false advertising in terms of how its network worked. So why not have the FTC, rather than the FCC, slap them down for their lack of transparency, rather than having the FCC step in where it might not belong?

As for those who are claiming that Martin's statements are somehow a "victory" for network neutrality, you might want to think again. Martin has made it clear in the past that he's not a supporter of network neutrality -- especially when it comes to the telcos, telling AT&T that if it felt it needed to start discriminating traffic for a valid business reason, it should feel free to do so.

Filed Under: authority, fcc, kevin martin, net neutrality, traffic shaping
Companies: comcast

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  1. identicon
    Ed, 14 Jul 2008 @ 2:27am

    Get what you pay for

    I thought they were totally blocking P2P. If they are traffic shaping, that seems like a legitimate operation assuming they just minimize upload/download speed to match their promised QOS. Of course, cable has no QOS guarantee, so they can do anything...

    Now, when TWC changes my TOS limit my downloads (5GB a month?) or limits my ability to use VOIP they should be sued for anti-competitive monopolistic behavior since they are trying to force me into downloading their movies or using their VOIP phone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Richard Bennett (profile), 14 Jul 2008 @ 3:42am

    Fair Summary

    I'd say you've got the story right, with the exception of the "jurisdiction over cable" thing. Cable does have to follow FCC regulations for telephone service, and I'm pretty sure there's a specific section of the Comm Act on cable Internet.

    There are overlapping jurisdictions where disclosure is concerned, and either the FCC or the FTC can act on that issue. But the FTC obviously can't act without a petition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jul 2008 @ 4:14am

    Re: Get what you pay for

    @ Ed

    Their "traffic shaping" included injecting packets to actually KILL dialogs over a certain protocol or port. In regards to BitTorrent this stopped you from downloading any Torrent which affects legitimate P2P distribution (see World of Warcraft patches and any Linux distro) as well as the more illicit ones.

    Also, it was found that at least in one instance they were doing it to plain old web browsing! It was found that some 'kill' packets were being sent and people using Google/Yahoo or reading the news online would have their browser close randomly.

    "Traffic Shaping" in the dictionary meaning makes sense. What they were doing does not. You shape traffic so the majority of users have an easier and faster time. You don't disrupt it so that what the majority are doing doesn't even work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    DCX2, 14 Jul 2008 @ 5:25am

    The FCC is outdated

    If we can "update FISA for the technological age", certainly we could re-create the FCC in a less bureaucratic manner. Maybe then they'd actually do something to, you know, foster competition.

    Nah, they'll probably just keep on saying that having 1% of an election cycle's coverage dedicated to local and state elections is acceptable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Matt (profile), 14 Jul 2008 @ 5:32am

    Re: Get what you pay for - you should

    Here's the issue.

    If they totally blocked 100%, everyone would know and the cat would be out the bag.

    Instead, they blocked certain things at the behest of music industries and other "bigtime whiners" (large corps, etc)

    They wouldn't block bittorrent download, they'd block upload. You'd not be able to share with anyone, which is the premise behind bitorrent. Also they'd block VOIP for everyone except their own, which raises anticompetitive issues.

    This isn't a legitimate anything, but they had said that it was to "make their networks better" but studies have shown that P2P hardly takes up much of the bandwidth, so it was an excuse.

    Put all this together, and think of how this would sound.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Lucretious, 14 Jul 2008 @ 6:09am

    Martin is also dragging his heels in regards to the XM/Sirius merger knowing full well that everyday that goes by XM is hemorrhaging cash and may have to close up.

    He's simply an egotistical bag of shit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Arkwin, 14 Jul 2008 @ 7:01am


    I would love to agree with you Matt, but when I'm seeding at my house, it slows down everything on my network, I could see a ton of people using BitTorrent, would slow down comcast.

    I'm all for net neutrality, that's just my 2 cents

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Abdul, 14 Jul 2008 @ 8:43am

    Re: The FCC is outdated

    You are totally right! When people were lauding the FCC on this comcast saga, i was a bit cynical and was waiting to hear what punishment they will hand to comcast. It turns out the punishmentn was a travesty and never will set any solid precedent to thwart telcos form embarking on such actions in the future. The FCC is indeed outdated and as some critics are sugesting, it's time for it to be dismiss: Abolish the FCC!(

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    comcast hater, 14 Jul 2008 @ 10:36am

    Re: Re: Get what you pay for - you should

    First off you don;t get what you pay for... my cable internet is constantly broken and I have to reset my modem to get it to work (despite 3 new modems they've provided) Their digital channels wouldn't work either, it sucked so I canceled the digital cable all together and only kept the internet and bare minimum cable (since they charge you more if you're not a "comcast customer... my arguement is if I buy internet from you I'm a customer.)

    The main point is that I haven't seen them block VOIP at all. I use Vonage and it works fine across my comcast connection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Rose M. Welch, 14 Jul 2008 @ 12:20pm

    Re: Fair Summary

    The FTC can act whenever they see anything that looks like it violates FTC guidelines. That's the whole point of the FTC. They're not a court geared toward trade, you know. The FTC is an independent agency, not a branch of a court system. Part of thier job is to enforce existing consumer protecion laws and to recommend new laws or modifications to Congress, whom they report to.

    A police officer doesn't have to wait until people call in; he constantly patrols his given area tooking for infractions. The FTC doesn't have to wait for a petition; they're supposed to constantly patrol, looking for violations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Dorrpus, 14 Jul 2008 @ 5:35pm

    I wish VOIP never came about. The Internet was designed for data, not voice. You have POTS and Cellular for yakking.

    When you add in the fees and bogus charges, VOIP is no better or cheaper than POTS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    acme, 16 Jul 2008 @ 2:27am


    Man, I'm with ya... POTS has really gone to pot starting with when that first "Caller ID" digitty data crap was foisted upon us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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