FCC Calls On Comcast To Explain VoIP Traffic Management

bandwidth cable VoIP

In a letter dated Jan. 18 to Kathryn Zachem, vice president of Comcast's regulatory affairs, the FCC asks for clarification on Comcast's bandwidth-throttling polices; i.e., the conditions that result in a user's connection being either slowed down or terminated.

On its Web site FAQ, Comcast explains that if a customer uses 70 percent (or more) of bandwidth for a period of 15 minutes or greater when his or her local cable modem terminal system (CMTS) has been at capacity for 15 minutes or longer, then the customer will lose network priority when running packets through the congested portion of the network. That can result in the VoIP call sounding "choppy."

The FCC's concern is that based on Comcast's previous filings with the commission and its advertised practices, it still believes all VoIP calls are not treated equally—specifically that Comcast's Digital Voice offering is given preferential treatment over competitors such as Skype and Vonage.

The FCC states in its letter that Comcast claims "VoIP providers that rely on delivering calls over the public Internet may experience a degradation of their call quality at times of network congestion."

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Comcast notes on its Web site that Digital Voice is a separate facilities-based IP phone service not affected by its new management technique. When Digital Voice is installed, an eMTA (embedded Multimedia Terminal Adapter) is set up that enables calls to travel over Comcast's private broadband network.

The FCC is asking Comcast for an explanation of how Comcast Digital Voice is "facilities-based" and whether Digital Voice affects network congestion in a different manner than other VoIP services. If the company can prove that the service is facilities-based, it then would be subject to regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

Comcast has until Jan. 30 to respond to the FCC.