FCC Advocates Comcast Sanctions For Web Blocking

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Martin said the FCC planned to issue a proposal to the agnecy's commissioners upholding a complaint filed by a coalition of consumer organizations and Internet rights activists that alleges Comcast was in violation of several open-Internet regulations by unlawfully blocking peer-to-peer traffic on its network.

The FCC vote among the agency's five commissioners is scheduled for its next open meeting Aug. 1, and will determine whether the agency will uphold the complaint, filed by Free Press and members of SavetheInternet.com.

Both organizations called for penalties imposed on Comcast for what they say was blocking individuals' rights to use file-sharing applications and services, such as BitTorrent, which distributes movies and other media online.

Comcast, however, denied the allegations, maintaining that the company did not block any content or applications used on its network, while claiming that the steps the company took were well within its right to ensure a good Internet experience for all users.

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"The carefully limited measures that Comcast takes to manage traffic on its broadband network are a reasonable part of Comcast's strategy to ensure a high-quality, reliable Internet experience for all Comcast high-Speed Internet customers and are used by many other ISPs around the world," said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice in a statement.

"Comcast's customer service agreements and policies have always informed Comcast customers that broadband capacity is not unlimited and that the network is managed for the benefit of all customers," Fitzmaurice continued.

Meanwhile, Martin's proposal was hailed by consumer groups and Internet rights organizations, which have been highly critical of Comcast's network management practices.

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a non-profit group, asserted that Congress should pass legislation to prohibit similar restrictions imposed by ISPs, while preserving the Internet rights of individuals who want the ability to control their online experience.

"Whether blocking traffic or collecting data without customers' knowledge, ISPs must know that they cannot impost themselves between consumers and consumers' online activities," Gigi Sohn, president of the non-profit group Public Knowledge, told Reuters.

The FCC's proposed action follows almost a year of organization and legal action by numerous Internet rights and other consumer advocacy groups.

The Comcast case is pivotal in the debate between those supporting "network neutrality" and an open Internet experience and some ISPs that say they have the right to manage and control the use of their network.

The decision, if upheld, would represent a major milestone for Internet regulation. It would also boost individuals and groups supporting the open Internet movement, who maintain that they are entitled to freely share content over the Web.

Comcast and other ISPs, on the othe hand, say that they are exercising steps well within their rights in order to manage their networks, relieve network bottle-necking and fight illegal file sharing.