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FCC boss reshapes hardline stance on Comcast

No fines - this time

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FCC boss Kevin Martin has said he doesn't want the regulator to fine Comcast for deploying traffic shaping its cable network.

Instead, he wants the FCC to order Comcast to do what Comcast has already promised to do: use more transparent traffic shaping techniques, and disclose them fully to users. Chairman Martin needs the votes of at least two of the five FCC commissioners.

Last week Martin declared that he had "found that Comcast's actions in this instance violated our principles". These require ISPs to provide open access to the network, "subject to reasonable network management". For a while it appeared Martin was preparing some strict discipline for the errant ISP. Although Martin never mentioned fines as a sanction, he has now confirmed these are not an option for the FCC.

"When they show they are blocking access to some sort of content, they have the burden to show that what they are doing is reasonable," said Martin on Friday.

Martin said that it wasn’t just Comcast’s decision to target BitTorrent users that was a problem, but also that it didn’t tell the fellas at the FCC what it was doing and applied the policy indiscriminately, even blocking BitTorrent users who weren’t swapping large files.

Comcast has argued that its "torrent busting" - resetting uploads - simply stalled a few bandwidth hogs so that most Bittorrent downloaders saw a better service.

"The empty 'punishment' allows both sides to claim victory," wrote internet engineer Richard Bennett on his blog.

But Comcast is still spitting feathers - a company spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal: "You can't enforce this because there aren't any rules. It violates all sorts of due processes in the way you are supposed to create rules."

Agitators insist that nothing short of a new law will do.

"Even if the Commission ultimately issues an order against Comcast, there is still a need for legislation to prohibit discrimination by telephone and cable companies while preserving the rights of Internet users and companies that do business on the Internet," said Public Knowledge's Gigi Sohn in a statement.®

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