Comcast extends wrist to receive FCC slap

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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.

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Email is dead, but you can try your luck at besc...@gmail.com
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6 Responses to Comcast extends wrist to receive FCC slap

  1. querent says:

    Decentralize economies.

    Decentralize the internet.

    There’s no question that this will happen, because it can. It can be done without sanction, without oversight, without control. It can be done by users to their own benefit, untaxed and outside of the scope of any ‘authority’. The internet is the greatest of the anarchist wildernesses. That is why I love it. Open source and free software represents a fundamental restructuring of the ‘society algorithm’. Give me the hardware and I am free. Han Solo was a hacker.

    I think doctrow posted something about a book to this effect recently. “Who owns the internet?” I wish I could afford books.

    Also: I miss george carlin. I miss bill hicks. ‘chomsky with dick jokes.’

  2. querent says:

    oh yeah…doctrow also wrote about it in ‘Little Brother’. The XNet. Which was a fucking beautiful book, Cory, the first I’ve read of yours and you have a fan. If I get that programming job I’ll buy a copy. I think the coolest and perhaps most immortal aspect of it is the use of existing technologies…writing the sci fi of now. fucking brilliant. and inspirational. definitely a non-fucking-trivial contribution to the emerging humanity. hats off, mother fucker. mad props.

  3. Tim Howland says:

    Although it’s critically important to get network neutrality established, I’m extremely concerned that we’ve got the worst part of the US government implementing it.

    The issue is that the FCC is one of the most corrupt, bought and sold parts of the US government, and has been the telco’s go-to boys whenever they’ve needed it. This establishes the precedent that the government is allowed to regulate internet traffic. If this had been done by the FTC, it would be a lot more palatable. This could have easily been treated as a breach of contract issue. Instead, we have the bluenoses who brought us COPA and George Carlin’s 7 words trying to say how internet companies get to flip the bits around.

    I’m very worried about granting control of any portion of the internet to the US government’s designated censors.

  4. Tyler says:

    I personally can’t believe the FCC actually ruled over something in their arena of jurisdiction. Guess they had to do some work after the whole wardrobe malfunction fiasco.

    When are we gonna get some beat downs on the telcos who got subsidized to improve their infrastructure in the 90′s so we wouldn’t be in this mess?

    Does anyone in Washington or anywhere else in the country realize how imperative unregulated bandwidth is to business? Does anyone who watches YouTube or MySpaceTV?

    I sometimes have to send large, non bit torrent files, that are free of Hollywood or ASCAP’s property. Sometimes I have to up files that are over 1GB to printers. This is so frustrating because I personally pay comcast almost $60 a month for compromised broadband service, that the rest of the world gets for less.

  5. Gary61 says:

    Yay! I love getting screwed for stuff I paid for!

  6. Enochrewt says:

    I wish I had the foresight to plot a graph of my available speeds while using bittorent against a timeline of this story developing. It would have been very enlightening.

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