Internet practices come under fire

From the Associated Press

Federal regulators said Monday that they were prepared to discipline Internet service providers that secretly favored certain types of data traffic, like Web surfing, over others, like file sharing.

At a hearing over allegations of traffic discrimination by Comcast Corp., the Federal Communications Commission chairman said the complaints underscored the need to enforce the FCC’s current broad principles intended to promote so-called net neutrality.

“The commission is ready, willing and able to step in if necessary to correct any practices that are ongoing today,” FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said.


Martin said service providers should be allowed to take reasonable steps to make efficient use of their networks at a time when the public’s growing appetite for Web video threatens to bump up against networks’ capacity limits. But he said such management policies must be disclosed.

“Consumers need to know if and how network management practices distinguish between different applications, so they can configure their own applications and systems properly,” Martin said.

Consumer groups and a provider of online video have filed complaints alleging Comcast hampered traffic between users without notice, violating the Internet’s tradition of equal treatment of traffic. Two of the groups also asked the FCC to fine Comcast.

At Monday’s hearing, David L. Cohen, an executive vice president at Comcast, said his firm interrupted file-sharing traffic in a neighborhood when it was so heavy that it would slow other kinds of traffic in the area.

Cohen said the practice created a largely imperceptible delay when a certain type of traffic -- say, an upload of video -- was rerouted elsewhere on the network, but was not blocked.

“We have chosen the least intrusive method to help the vast majority of our customers avoid service degradation,” Cohen said.