Comcast will cut back some customers' speeds after FCC order

Just one day after the Federal Communications Commission released its official opinion and order regarding the cable provider's throttling practices, Comcast has changed its ways.

Called Fair Share, the service's new protocol will slow down the connection speeds of Comcast's most bandwidth-heavy users for periods of up to 20 minutes. It will be application-agnostic, and will be triggered by the customer's overall use of bandwidth.

While at first it may sound like the move goes totally against the FCC's order to stop throttling, in reality it matches with the agency's position on the cable company's rights to manage its network within reason.

FCC commissioners gave Comcast 30 days to detail its previous practices and how they were planning to change them. From the look of Wednesday's announcement, at least one of those requirements has been satisfied.

"Comcast could cap the average users' capacity and then charge the most aggressive users overage fees," the FCC said in its ruling (PDF available here). "Or Comcast could throttle back the connection speeds of high capacity users."

It seems the agency was more concerned about discriminatory practices when choosing what to throttle: Comcast was indeed found to be interfering with the traffic of specific applications, most notably BitTorrent.

"Subscribers should be able to go where they want, when they want, and generally use the Internet in any legal means," FCC spokesperson Robert Kenny told BetaNews. "When providers engage in practices truly designed to manage congestion, not cripple a potential competitive threat, they should not be afraid to disclose their practices to consumers."

Whether or not to apply the caps will be decided in real-time, the company's online services chief Mitch Bowling told Bloomberg News. But Comcast's spokespeople were quick to clear up that the moves were not a reaction to the ruling itself.

Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas told BetaNews that the company had already been working with BitTorrent and others on protocol agnostic bandwidth management since at least March of this year, so viewing Fair Share as a reaction to the FCC's order would be inaccurate. He added that Fair Share itself had been in testing for almost three months in two markets in Chambersburg, Pa. and Warrington, Va.

In addition to the caps, heavy users could also be susceptible to additional charges, although the company has not decided whether or not to implement such a plan. Time Warner is already testing such an option in its Beaumont, Texas market.

Those who brought the original complaint to the FCC's attention lauded the decision as validation that the agency does have the authority to protect the 'open Internet.'

"This order marks a major milestone in Internet policy," Free Press policy director Ben Scott said. "For years, the FCC declared that it would take action against any Internet service provider caught violating the online rights guaranteed by the agency. Today, the commission has delivered on that promise."

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