The United States Federal Communications Commission today voted strongly in favor of the concept of ‘Net Neutrality. They found that, “Comcast has unduly interfered with Internet users’ right to access the lawful Internet content and to use the applications of their choice.” Comcast Corporation, the nation’s largest cable-television provider, had been interfering with its customers’ Internet access by secretly and selectively blocking certain types of communications known as peer-to-peer connections.

Peer-to-peer applications, including BitTorrent, the most well-known, give Internet users the ability to view and share high-quality video. The FCC found that Comcast’s network management practices were inconsistent with the concept of an open and accessible network and had significant effects on their customers. These effects were made worst by the fact that Comcast tried to hide what it was doing. It changed its story more than once and only admitted the extent to which it was blocking traffic when confronted by solid third-party data.

The FCC was particularly concerned with how this secrecy interacted with the anti-competitive nature of Comcast’s blocking policies; stating that:

The Commission also concluded that the anticompetitive harms caused by Comcast’s conduct have been compounded by the company’s unacceptable failure to disclose its practices to consumers.  Because Comcast did not provide its customers with notice of the fact that it interfered with customers’ use of peer-to-peer applications, customers had no way of knowing when Comcast was interfering with their connections.  As a result, the Commission found that many consumers experiencing difficulty using only certain applications would not place blame on Comcast, where it belonged, but rather on the applications themselves, thus further disadvantaging those applications in the competitive marketplace.     

It is not surprising that Comcast attempted to block traffic.  In fact, Bil MacLeslie, ipHouse’s CEO, predicted in a StarTribune Op Ed piece in 1999 that providers would eventually begin to preferentially filter content.

Comcast has new plans for how to manage the traffic on their network. They are now planning on selectively limiting bandwidth to high bandwidth users. The New York Times had a good article on the new bandwidth restrictions back in June.

In its official ruling, the FCC reiterated that while providers need to allow consumers to access legal Internet content, ISP’s can still block unlawful content such as child pornography, pirated music or videos.