Out of Control Policy Blog

Martin Burns Comcast

Continuing his personal vendetta with the cable industry, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin recommended that Comcast be punished for "blocking" Internet traffic when it throttled down the bandwidth-insatiable BitTorrent protocol.

If the FCC votes Martin's way, which it likely will, it will be the first time a service provider is penalized for applying network management techniques in order to balance the bandwidth load being consumed by diverse applications in the network. It will give weight to calls for further network neutrality legislation that aims to regulate all Web traffic management.

The move is surprising because up to now Martin has been urging caution about adopting any principle that might interfere with network management and quality of service. Plus, Comcast had not been actually blocking the BitTorrent application, but had introduced countermeasures to prevent BitTorrent traffic from consuming so much bandwidth that it degraded service to its larger community of customers. BitTorrent users saw their file transfers slow down, but they were not cut off. What's more, in the wake of the reports, Comcast and BitTorrent worked out an agreement on how the cable company would handle BitTorrent traffic. So not even BitTorrent, the supposed "victim" in this, is crying foul.

What's not surprising, on the other hand, is that the target of Martin's action is Comcast, the nation's largest cable company. His action once again shows that as far as the cable industry goes, there's no previous position he won't reverse.

Unfortunately it establishes a precedent on network neutrality we don't need. Martin's irrational animosity toward cable has opened the door to wholesale government regulation of the way the Internet works – economically and technologically. It's a heck of legacy from a Commissioner who claims to support market principles.


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