Aug 01, 2008, 12:22PM

Comcast Can't Control Your Downloads

Last winter Comcast got caught secretly restricting subscribers who used BitTorrent, even though the downloading program is perfectly legal. Net neutrality activists cried out that Comcast was illegally restricting access to content, and today the FCC agreed in what could be a precedent-setting decision over who controls the Internet.

"Will the Internet evolve out in the open?" asked FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. "Or will network operators bring it under their control for their own purposes?" A majority of three agency Commissioners voted today for an Order that they hope will preserve openness: Copps, his fellow Democrat Jonathan Adelstein, and, most significantly, FCC Chair Kevin Martin, who continued Shaffer's mail metaphor in his public comments.

"Would anyone here actually be OK if the Post Office was opening your mail and deciding that they didn't want to bother delivering it and hiding that fact by sending it back to you stamped 'address unknown, return to sender'?" Martin asked the audience. "Or would anyone here be OK if someone sent them a First Class letter, and the Post Office decided that they would open it, and deciding that because the mail truck was full sometimes, they would make the determination that your letter could wait, and then they would hide that fact from you, the fact that they had read your letter and opened it, and that they decided to delay it?"

The agency responded to complaints filed last year from Free Press, Public Knowledge, and a petition from the Vuze Corporation, charging that Comcast has chronically interfered with P2P traffic. Through 2008 the Commission received well over 30,000 statements, comments, and studies on the matter. It also held two full hearings at Harvard Law School and Stanford University.


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