The Federal Communications Commission will investigate complaints that
Comcast Corp. actively interferes with Internet traffic as its
subscribers try to share files online, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said
Tuesday.

http://www.orbitcast.com/archives/kevin_martin.jpg

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin

A coalition of consumer groups and legal scholars asked the agency
in November to stop Comcast from discriminating against certain types
of data. Two groups also asked the FCC to fine the nation’s No. 2
Internet provider $195,000 for every affected subscriber.

"Sure,
we’re going to investigate and make sure that no consumer is going to
be blocked," Martin told an audience at the International Consumer
Electronics Show.

In an investigation last year, The Associated
Press found that Comcast in some cases hindered file sharing by
subscribers who used BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing program. The
findings, first reported Oct. 19, confirmed claims by users who also
noticed interference with other file-sharing applications.

Comcast
denies that it blocks file sharing, but acknowledged after the AP story
that it was "delaying" some of the traffic between computers that share
files. The company said the intervention was necessary to improve the
surfing experience for the majority of its subscribers.

Peer-to-peer
file sharing is a common way to illegally exchange copyright files, but
companies are also rushing to utilize it for legal distribution of
video and game content. If ISPs hinder or control that traffic, it
makes them important gatekeepers of Internet content.

The FCC’s
response will be an important test of its willingness to enforce "Net
Neutrality," the principle that Internet traffic be treated equally by
carriers. The agency has a broadly stated policy supporting the
concept, but its position hasn’t been tested in a real-world case.

The
FCC’s policy statement makes an exception for "reasonable traffic
management." Comcast has said its practices fall under that exception.

"The
question is going to arise: Are they reasonable network practices?"
Martin said Tuesday. "When they have reasonable network practices, they
should disclose those and make those public."

Comcast subscribers
who asked the company about interference on their connections before
the AP story ran were met with flat denials.

A Comcast spokesman did not have an immediate comment.

Martin
also said the commission was looking at complaints that wireless
carriers denied text-messaging "short codes" to some applicants. The
five-digit numbers are a popular way to sign up for updates on
everything from sports to politics to entertainment news.

Verizon
Wireless in late September denied a request by Naral Pro-Choice
America, an abortion rights group, to use its mobile network for a
sign-up text messaging program.

The company reversed course just a day later, calling it a mistake and an "isolated incident."

Verizon
Wireless has also denied a short code to a Swedish company, Rebtel
Networks AB, that operates a service similar to a virtual calling card,
allowing users to avoid paying the carrier’s international rates on
their cell-phone calls. Verizon Wireless has stuck to that denial,
saying it does want to provide an advertising venue to a competitor.

"I tell the staff that they should act on all of those complaints and investigate all of them," Martin said.

Via AP