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Comcast Customer Sues to End P2P Interference

By Erika Morphy
Nov 15, 2007 1:51 PM PT

Allegations that Comcast is blocking Internet traffic to peer-to-peer (P2P) sites, namely BitTorrent and Gnutella, continue to bedevil the company.

Comcast Customer Sues to End P2P Interference

First, there was the media exposť, then the petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by several consumer groups to enjoin Comcast from interfering with the Internet traffic that travels over its pipes.

Now, Jon Hart, a California Comcast subscriber, has filed suit in the Alameda County Superior Court against the company, claiming it is engaging in unfair business practices because it limits download speeds of P2P file-sharing programs. Hart is seeking class action status.

AP Investigation

Allegations against Comcast's interference in customers' file-sharing activities began last month with a detailed report by The Associated Press. The AP found, for instance, that Comcast's system would masquerade as users to interrupt file-sharing connections.

Comcast has denied the allegations -- while at the same time offering artfully worded policy statements that if it did block connection attempts between two computers, eventually the traffic would be let through after repeated attempts. Other explanations have centered around "routine network maintenance."

Earlier this month, several consumer groups filed a petition with the government agency to enjoin Comcast for these activities, with two of the groups asking that the cable provider be fined US$195,000 for every affected subscriber.

The "Petition for Declaratory Ruling" presses the FCC to establish that blocking P2P communications violates the agency's Internet Policy Statement. This statement encapsulates four principles that guarantee consumers competition among providers and access to all content, applications and services, according to watchdog organization Free Press.

Free Press was one of the petitioners along with Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, Charles Nesson of Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Barbara van Schewick of Stanford Law School and the Stanford Center for Internet & Society.

Free Press and Public Knowledge also proposed fines to deter future violations by Comcast and other Internet service providers.

Not as Responsive

Unfortunately, the FCC has not been as responsive as the petitioners would have liked, Jennifer Howard, associate communications director at Free Press, told the E-Commerce Times. "We are still awaiting some kind of action. They don't see it as the urgent issue that we do."

For that reason, the suit against Comcast is to be lauded, she said, as it is the only -- thus far -- financial cudgel being used against the company.

Private suits, though, do not address the long term need of having strong Net neutrality legislation, she added. "This incident highlights that."

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