The fallout from the FCC's order against Comcast

* Policing the network for P2P traffic

On Aug. 1, the FCC released an order with a press release titled "Commission Orders Comcast to End Discriminatory Network Management Practices." The title of the release, which was picked up by some national media, left us wondering exactly what was going on. So we headed over to the FCC's Web site, and what we found there seemed to be a milestone.

According to the press release, “Comcast Corp’s management of its broadband Internet networks contravenes federal policies that protect the vibrant and open nature of the Internet.” So what exactly was Comcast doing?

It turns out that Comcast “had deployed equipment throughout its network to monitor the content of its customers’ Internet connections and selectively block specific types of connections known as peer-to-peer (P2P) connections.” Even though this started because users complained about a few problems, the FCC found that the practice was being used widely.

The press release talked about the problems associated with P2P use of BitTorrent, which brings up the question of blocking any (or selective) P2P applications. For example, it’s not hard to imagine that a cable company that sells phone service could conceivably want to block a competitive phone service, such as Skype, which is considered by many to be the preeminent P2P application.

We were impressed by the level to which the press release cut to the core of the matter. Again, to quote, “The Commission also concluded that Comcast’s practices are not minimally intrusive, as the company claims, but rather are invasive and have significant effects. The Commission found that Comcast monitors its customers’ connections using deep packet inspection and then determines how it will route some connections based not on their destinations but on their contents. In essence, Comcast opens its customers’ mail because it wants to deliver mail not based on the address on the envelope but on the type of letter contained therein.”

We’re not lawyers, but find this decision to be monumental. Next time, we'll discuss the impact of the FCC's decision on corporate networks.

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