Comcast Questioned Over VOIP Net Management

Comcast, Comcast, Comcast. You can't seem to satisfy the FCC, no matter what you do. While Comcast has just switched to a new protocol-agnostic network management scheme, the FCC has some new questions for the company: namely, why its new policy affects the VOIP services of other companies, but not Comcast's own Digital Voice service.

Last year FCC objected to Comcast's prior network management policy, which punished specific protocols (such as BitTorrent). Their new policy de-prioritizes a user's connection if a CMTS port is congested and the user has been ID'ed as the primary reason.

However, while that's all well and good, it seems that the cable ISP is playing favorites when it comes to VOIP applications and how its new policy affects them. In a letter (.PDF) sent to Comcast last weekend, the FCC said, with regard to a consumer experiencing throttling:
If such a consumer then places a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) call along a route experiencing actual congestion, Comcast states that consumer may find that his "VoIP call sounds choppy (makes sense)." Critically, the Appendix draws no distinction between Comcast's VolP offering and those offered by its competitors.

Comcast's website, however, suggests that such a distinction does in fact exist. The website claims that "Comcast Digital Voice is a separate facilities-based IP phone service that is not affected by this [new network management] technique." (whoops)

We request that Comcast explain why it omitted from its filings with the Commission the distinct effects that Comcast's new network management technique has on Comcast's VoIP offering versus those of its competitors. We also ask that you provide a detailed justification for Comcast's disparate treatment of its own VoIP service as compared to that offered by other VoIP providers on its network. In particular, please explain how Comcast Digital Voice is "facilities-based," how Comcast Digital Voice uses Comcast's broadband facilities, and, in particular, whether (and if so, how) Comcast Digital Voice affects network congestion in a different manner than other VoIP services.
Well, yeah, it all makes sense. Or rather, the FCC's questions make sense; the Comcast claims that its own VOIP offering is not affected do not, unless there's some nepotism there.

Ahem, network neutrality anyone?

Also, Comcast appears to have stuck its foot in its mouth by stating that its VOIP service is a "separate facilities-based" telephone service that is distinct from its broadband service. This would make the VOIP service a telecommunications service, and as the FCC says:
Given that Comcast apparently is maintaining that its VoIP service is a "separate facilities-based" telephone service that is distinct from its broadband service and differs from the service offered by "VoIP providers that rely on delivering calls over the public Internet," Frequently Asked Questions, it would appear that Comcast's VoIP service is a telecommunications service subject to regulation under Title II ofthe Communications Act of 1934, as amended. We thus request that Comcast explain any reason the Commission should not treat Comcast's VoIP offering as a telecommunications service under Title II - a service subject, among other things, to the same intercarrier compensation obligations applicable to other facilities-based telecommunications carriers.
In other words, if you're going to make these claims as a way of explaining why your VOIP service isn't affected by your throttling, you're going to have to pay us those fees telecommunications carriers are supposed to.

Meanwhile, we received an email from the Free Press. Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, issued the following statement:
"This letter is a positive sign that the FCC's Comcast decision was not a one-and-done action on Net Neutrality. We are pleased that the commission is conducting an ongoing investigation into network management practices that might impact users' access to the online content and services of their choice. An open Internet cannot tolerate arbitrary interference from Internet service providers. Congress and the FCC must close any legal loopholes that permit anti-competitive behavior to thrive. As the agency transitions into the new administration, this letter demonstrates that vigilance for consumer protection will not be put on hold."
It will be interesting to see how Obama's new FCC head, Julius Genachowski, an admitted proponent of network neutrality handles things as he transitions into office.
Tags:  Comcast, Internet, FCC