In a historic decision, the Federal Communication Commission has declared that cable-TV and Internet service provider Comcast interfered with Internet users' rights to share specific content, including television shows and movies.
Under strong pressure from open-Internet advocacy groups, the FCC ruled 3-2 Friday that Comcast monitored customers' Web traffic and blocked specific types of connections.
The FCC said its investigation and the findings of engineers confirmed complaints. Comcast, according to the FCC, delayed subscriber downloads and blocked uploads 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of the amount of congestion on the network or how small the file.
Comcast has been under fire for some time for blocking peer-to-peer file sharing with BitTorrent software. The FCC said Comcast's motive was to block competition with its video-on-demand offering.
Comcast will not have to pay a fine because the FCC had not previously provided direction to network operators on what constitutes reasonable management, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said.
But the company was ordered to have a compliance plan in place by the end of the year, refrain from any discriminatory practices, and notify subscribers of any future network actions.
Comcast said it was disappointed with the FCC's decision because its network management was consistent with industry practices. A spokesperson said the FCC's order raises due-process concerns and a variety of legal questions.
The company insisted it does little management of P2P protocols and on a typical day there are an estimated nine billion P2P packets unaffected by network management. It also said about six to seven percent of Comcast subscribers use P2P on a weekly basis.
Comcast and other ISPs argue that they need to be allowed to manage their networks to avoid congestion and fight illegal file sharing. Comcast also said the FCC does not have the right to enforce an open Internet.
In a move to work with P2P companies, Comcast has announced a joint effort with BitTorrent, Pando Networks, and Vonage to work out any management issues. It also said it will participate in an industry P2P best-practices initiative.