FCC questions Comcast's VoIP management protocols

FCC dispute relates to Comcast's earlier decision to change its P2P management practices

The Federal Communications Commission has issued a letter to Comcast questioning whether the ISP is degrading rival VoIP traffic in favor of its own service.

Comcast is about to get another network neutrality-related headache.

The FCC has issued a letter to Comcast questioning whether the ISP is degrading rival VoIP traffic in favor of its own service. Specifically, the FCC is asking to clarify some of its new traffic management practices that the company adopted last year that target individual users rather than Internet applications for traffic degradation.

According to the FCC, Comcast says its traffic management policies will make VoIP calls sound "choppy" for any users who consume 70% of their provisioned bandwidth for more than 15 minutes at peak hours. However, the FCC is concerned that Comcast's Web site says that its own VoIP service will not be affected by the new traffic management procedure, as its VoIP service is a "separate facilities-based IP phone service." This means that heavy users making calls through rival VoIP services such as Skype could see their traffic degraded, while heavy users making calls through Comcast's native VoIP service would experience no similar difficulties.

This apparent discrepancy leaves Comcast open to charges that it is violating network neutrality principles by favoring its own Internet traffic over that of its competitors, says that FCC. In its letter to Comcast, the FCC requests that Comcast provide a "detailed justification" for its VoIP traffic management practices that includes how Comcast delivers its own digital voice service over its IP network.

The dispute over Comcast's VoIP traffic management dates back to last year when the company bowed to pressure from the FCC and said it would impose a bandwidth cap that would limit residential customers to 250GB of bandwidth a month and would "de-prioritize" traffic for individuals who exceed the cap. Previously, Comcast had targeted peer-to-peer protocols such as BitTorrent and eDonkey for traffic shaping. Essentially, anytime a Comcast customer would try to upload a large file through a peer-to-peer protocol, Comcast would send TCP RST packets to both the file's uploader and the downloader telling them that there was an error within the network and that a new connection would have to be established.

Advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press have been pressuring Comcast to change its traffic management practices since October 2007, when the Associated Press first reported that the company was actively interfering with some of its customers' ability to share files online

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