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FCC slaps cable giant

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As expected, the US telecoms regulator has censured Comcast for violating "net neutrality" principles laid down in 2005. And as expected, Comcast has strongly hinted it will challenge the decision, arguing that it violates the FCC's own rule making obligations.

Commissioners Copps and Adelstein sided with chairman Martin in a 3:2 vote to issue an "enforcement order" against Comcast for resetting Bittorrent uploads at times of peak congestion. Comcast initially denied the practice, and has since disowned it. The case was brought by P2P service Vuze with campaign group Free Press, and was backed by Google-funded law departments at Harvard and Stanford.

Free Press hailed the decision.

"Defying every ounce of conventional wisdom in Washington, everyday people have taken on a major corporation and won a historic precedent for an open Internet," the group said.

Comcast said it was relieved the FCC didn't impose a fine, and said the technique was "reasonable, wholly consistent with industry practices," adding "we did not block access to Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services"

The cable giant also hinted at a legal challenge.

"We also believe that the Commission’s order raises significant due process concerns and a variety of substantive legal questions. We are considering all our legal options and are disappointed that the commission rejected our attempts to settle this issue without further delays."

The FCC can only act in areas authorized by Congress, and this clearly exceeds its authority, since no neutrality legislation has succeeded democratically.

As Declan McCullagh noted earlier this week, while a judicial challenge is likely to be successful, it poses risks for the network operator of greater bureaucratic meddling:

"For now, at least, the vagueness of the FCC's Net neutrality principles can be useful to both sides: broadband providers and Free Press can point to them as supporting their respective positions. If a court declares them to be unlawful, the ruling could invite more specific regulations or explicit legislation from Congress," he wrote.

For now, the Neutrality campaigners have won the symbolic victory they wanted so much.®

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