Tomorrow, FCC commissioners are expected to sanction Comcast for interfering with internet traffic crossing its network. Today, however, commission Chairman Kevin Martin outlined his vision for an open industry, describing an internet in which reasonable network management coexists with a "general" provision to use any device and any software to connect to any legal content.
“That precedent is going to be increasingly applied,” he told Saul Hansell of the New York Times. “We are setting a very high bar on what network operators can do in terms of putting limits on consumers.”
He avoided mention of network neutrality and said that the commission should not publish explicit recommendations. They will, however, deal with complaints – and it's tomorrow's verdict that lurks behind Martin's PR efforts.
The Washington Post writes that three of the five commissioners have signed off on an order finding that Comcast violated federal rules.
Martin, a Republican, and Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, are set to "affirm" the complaint. Republican Robert McDowell indicated he will vote against it, while Republican Deborah Taylor Tate hasn't shown her hand.
Comcast, for its part, denied throttling internet traffic until investigators proved it was doing so, and now asserts that it must "delay" file transfers to ensure there is enough internet bandwidth to go round.
"I continue to believe that it is imperative that all consumers have unfettered access to the Internet," Martin said in a statement Monday.
With AT&T recently announcing a flat ban on file sharing on its wireless plans, however, the burden is on the FCC to demonstrate that it can take action. Comcast says that the FCC simply doesn't have the legal authority to make demands of it or any other internet service provider. In one interview with the Financial Times, Martin vigorously denies this.
Nonetheless, it appears that the FCC won't fine the cable giant tomorrow. The Post suggests instead that it will instead try and draw a line in the sand:
The ruling could set a precedent, analysts said, in that it would send a message to other carriers that they must fully disclose how they manage the flow of traffic over their networks and not single out any specific applications for more scrutiny.
It finds Roger Entner of IAG Research willing to utter the sentence of the week: Comcast will get a "slap on the wrist."
"Regulators are poised to slap the corporate wrist of Comcast," writes the LA Times. FCC set to slap Comcast's wrist, writes Richard Koman at ZDNet. Slap. Slap. Slap. It would be improper to not use the word.
It's an outcome that some consider meaningless, a symbolic win for advocates of network neutrality. Or "geeks," as it is put, with many in the mainstream press certain that normal Americans have little to worry about.
Throttling will make gamers "late for their World of Warcraft sessions" writes Elisha Sauers of the Annapolis Capital. Roberto Rocha, of the Montreal Gazette, mocks net neutrality advocates as "utopian" in a story that quotes only critics of it – until the final paragraph. The Wall Street Journal simply views it all as the result of the administration's "bad personnel decision" in appointing Martin. Efforts to prevent Comcast throttling connections, it says, amount to giving regulators "unprecedented control over how consumers use the Web."
If giving consumers uninterrupted internet access can be presented as the government controlling what they do, you might wonder if the Journal thinks its readers were born yesterday – or if they use the internet much. Service providers were not born yesterday, however, and have already moved to head off criticism. Some are testing metered internet plans – currently, most providers offer all-you-can-eat schedules – as the price of free access.
CNet's Don Reisinger asks: "Whatever happened to making customers happy?"
That's the environment we live in today. The days of customer satisfaction have given way to customer distaste. It's as if most of these companies spend more time trying to stop you from using the service than improve it...
Comcast, however, need not trouble itself with such concerns, as its profits are up 8 percent despite a slump in ad revenue. Why? Because it's gobbling internet market share from telephone companies faster than it can swallow, with its army of hard-pressed, independently-contracted installers becoming a legend in tardiness and shoddiness. Today, its shares soared.