Comcast Appeals FCC Ruling On Net Neutrality

comcast Comcast Thursday asked a federal court to overturn the Federal Communication Commission's recent precedent-setting decision that the cable company violated neutrality principles by unlawfully blocking peer-to-peer traffic.

The FCC ruled 3-2 against Comcast last month and ordered the company to stop managing congestion by degrading particular applications by the end of the year.

Comcast Thursday said it intends to follow the FCC's order and only filed the appeal to preserve its rights. "We will follow through on our longstanding commitment to transition to protocol-agnostic network congestion management practices by the end of this year," the company stated. "We filed this appeal in order to protect our legal rights and to challenge the basis on which the Commission found that Comcast violated federal policy in the absence of pre-existing legally enforceable standards or rules."

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Tests last year by The Associated Press and other researchers revealed that Comcast was systematically interfering with bandwidth-intensive peer-to-peer traffic. The cable company acknowledged it sometimes slowed such traffic, but said it did so to manage congestion on its network.

The findings prompted online video company Vuze as well as advocates like Free Press and Public Knowledge to file complaints with the FCC. Last month, FCC chair Kevin Martin, a Republican, joined with the two Democrats on the commission to rule against Comcast. The agency said Comcast's interference with peer-to-peer traffic was "inconsistent with the concept of an open and accessible Internet."

The FCC's other two Republicans dissented.

The two-page document Comcast filed in court Thursday doesn't offer any reasons for the appeal, but the company has repeatedly argued that the FCC has no authority to enforce net neutrality principles.

In 2005, the agency issued a policy statement providing that broadband companies shouldn't discriminate against lawful content or applications. But Comcast argues that the policy statement is unenforceable because it's not a law or a regulation.

News of the appeal prompted the net neutrality group Open Internet Coalition to call for federal legislation ensuring that broadband providers not discriminate against particular applications or content. "We need clear and durable rules to protect the open Internet," the organization said in a statement. "Continued uncertainty over which applications will be able to work over the Internet, and whether consumer have any rights to access the content of their choice, will stifle innovation."

Comcast brought its appeal in the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington, a venue some observers perceive as more likely than other courts to be favorable for the cable company due to its track record.

But the case might not be heard in that court because other, related actions are pending in three different federal courts. Late last week, Vuze and the advocacy groups Consumers Union and PennPIRG quietly filed petitions in three separate federal appellate courts. They're alleging that the FCC should have ordered Comcast to halt its practices immediately rather than setting an end-of-year deadline.

"We're saying the Commission erred by not granting immediate injunctive relief," said Harold Feld, a lawyer for the Media Access Project, which represents all three petitioners.

Now that appeals related to the case are pending in four separate federal appeals courts, the federal judiciary might hold a lottery to determine which court will hear the matter.

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