Comcast cable’s boneheaded campaign to choke off bandwidth for file-sharers has made a powerful enemy: FCC chairman Kevin Martin.
The FCC chief said Friday that Comcast must stop singling out users of the BitTorrent file-sharing application, and reveal to customers what sort of “traffic shaping” activities it was employing.
At this year’s CSS, Martin announced a probe of Comcast’s activities in limiting bandwidth for users of P2P applications. Martin’s ruling, which needs a sign-off from the rest of the commission, does not include penalties or sanctions for Comcast’s previous data-nanny behaviors.
The order looks like a major vote for network neutrality, the often-debated concept that ISPs need to keep their noses out of how customers use the Internet.”The Internet is based upon the idea that consumers can go anywhere they want and access any content they want,” the FCC chieftain told the New York Times in an interview. “When they show they are blocking access to some sort of content, they have the burden to show that what they are doing is reasonable.”
In late March, BitTorrent and Comcast came to an uneasy peace over the issue with an agreement that the cabler would transition to “protocol agnostic” bandwidth management — meaning BitTorrent wouldn’t be singled out. BitTorrent is most widely used for the sharing of movie and TV files, while Comcast sells pay-per-view programming to its cable TV customers.
BitTorrent’s charges of anti-competitive behavior — which could have wrought legal and governmental headaches for Comcast — were enough to get the cabler’s attention.
BitTorrent has said it’s developing new distribution methods that would reduce the drag on bandwidth providers.
Eric Klinker, chief technology officer of BitTorrent, said at the time of the agreement: “Recognizing that the Web is richer and more bandwidth-intensive than it has been historically, we are pleased that Comcast … wants to collaborate with us to migrate to techniques that the Internet community will find to be more transparent.”
The FCC chief said Friday that one of the problems with Comcast’s bandwidth crackdown was the cabler’s lack of clear communication with customers.
BitTorrent users on Comcast complained that not only was bandwidth choked off for them while using the P2P application, they were systematically blocked from seeding — the first P in the P2P end of things, in which users with complete files remain online, “seeding” other downloaders.
The relative youth of FCC chief Martin, a Bush appointee, probably figures into what looks like an unusual ruling against a big operator such as Comcast. Basically, Martin gets it. Score 1 for Generation X.