Legal scholars from Yale, Harvard, and Stanford along with public advocacy groups have filed a network neutrality complaint (PDF) with the Federal Communications Commission against U.S. cable provider Comcast, claiming the company is intentionally degrading network performance and discriminating against customers’ use of the network—specifically, blocking the use of peer-to-peer file sharing applications like BitTorrent and Gnutella. If the complaint moves forward, it could be the first major test of the FCC’s network neutrality principles.
Although these principles are not law, the FCC indicated a strong willingness to enforce them via its regulatory authority shuld it see evidence communications providers were violating them.
The complaint stems from an investigation conducted by the Associated Press—and since repeated by other parties—that Comcast is generating reset packets designed to shut down selected file sharing connections operating on its network. It alleges this activity violates the FCC’s 2005 “Internet Policy Statement” designed ot guarantee consumers competition amongst both Internet service providers, but also the ability access all applications, content, and services.
“Nobody gave Comcast the right to be an Internet gatekeeper,” says Marvin Ammori, Free Press’s general counsel and co-author of the complaint. “There is nothing reasonable about telling users which Internet services they can and can’t use.”
The complaint was filed by Free Press, Public Knowledge, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Media Access Project, plus the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, Charles Nesson of Harvard Law School, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Barbara van Schewick of Stanford Law School.
The complaint asks the FCC to immediately issue a temporary injunction barring Comcast from degrading any applications while the complaint is being heard; the complain seeks a permanent injunction. Public Knowledge and Free Press have also filed a separate complaint seeking fines against Comcast of $195,000 per customer.
The FCC does not comment on active complaints; for its part, Comcast has issued a statement denying it blocks any Web sites or services. ” “Comcast does not, has not, and will not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services, and no one has demonstrated otherwise,” said Comcast executive VP David L. Cohen, in a statement. “We engage in reasonable network management to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience, and we do so consistently with FCC policy.”
On October 22, a Comcast spokesperson said the company may “delay” some Internet traffic in the course of “reasonable network management.”