Tarring and Feathering Comcast

by on July 28, 2008 · 14 comments

The Federal Communications Commission, according to the Wall Street Journal, is prepared to stop Comcast from blocking peer-to-peer file sharing later this week — although the commission won’t fine the company because it wasn’t “previously clear what the agency’s rules were.”

Now, according to Multichannel News, comes word that there is a wireless broadband provider who explicitly prohibits all uses that may cause extreme network capacity issues, and “explicitly identif[ies] P2P file sharing applications as such a use.” 

I am not familiar with the wireless broadband provider’s practices in this area (nor even of its relevant terms of service, even though I am a customer).  However, Comcast delayed file sharing only when necessary to relieve network congestion.  Absent congestion, Comcast permitted file sharing.  A cable broadband network typically experiences congestion during the early evening hours. Which means that if file sharers were willing to avoid those hours they could share files on the Comcast network the rest of the time.  

So it will be interesting whether the FCC bans network management which prohibits file sharing, in which case cable and wireless networks could become congested to the annoyance of millions of ordinary users.  Or whether it allows broadband providers to practice network management so long as they clearly disclose it, in which case file sharers may discover they can’t use a broadband wireless or cable connection to share files, ever. Or maybe the brilliant politicians at the commission will require disclosure in sufficient detail to enable hackers to defeat network management altogether, permitting congestion to reign but ensuring that providers, not the commission, will be blamed.

As everyone who reads this blog knows, the architecture of cable, wireless and wireline networks is completely different.  Each have unique congestion challenges, and in the short term all providers must have flexibility to find appropriate solutions.  

The key point is that all broadband providers are trying to increase bandwidth as fast as they can.  The proper role for the commission is to eliminate barriers to investment, of which regulatory uncertainty is one of the most significant.

If a particular company, Comcast, is the target here primarily because it refused to pay certain political dues or tribute, as I suspect it is, we should acknowledge that and take the company’s side.

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