Net Neutrality Violation: Complaint Says Comcast Blocking User Access

Editor's note: this is a press release issued by Free Press. You can download the entire complaint here.

Responding to Comcast's blocking of Internet traffic, members of the Coalition and Internet scholars at the nation's top law schools today filed a petition and complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. The filings call for urgent action to stop violations of consumers' right to access the software and content of their choice.

In the "most drastic example yet of data discrimination," the Associated Press recently exposed that Comcast, the nation's largest cable company and second-largest Internet service provider, is actively interfering with its users' ability to access legal content. The company is cutting off legal peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as BitTorrent and Gnutella, as well as business applications such as Lotus Notes. Comcast has claimed its actions were "reasonable network management."

"Comcast's defense is bogus," said Ben Scott policy director of Free Press. "The FCC needs to take immediate action to put an end to this harmful practice. Comcast's blatant and deceptive BitTorrent blocking is exactly the type of problem advocates warned would occur without Net Neutrality laws. Our message to both the FCC and Congress is simple: We told you so, now do something about it."

The "Petition for Declaratory Ruling" presses the FCC to establish that blocking peer-to-peer communications like BitTorrent violates the agency's "Internet Policy Statement" -- four principles issued in 2005 that are supposed to guarantee consumers competition among providers and access to all content, applications and services.

"Last year, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and opponents of Net Neutrality told Congress that the FCC has all the authority it needs to prevent exactly this sort of customer abuse by a major provider," said Harold Feld, senior vice president of Media Access Project. "Now we come to the acid test. Will the FCC, which vowed to protect our freedom to run the applications of our choice, stand up for citizens in the face of Comcast?"

The FCC issued its policy after dismantling longstanding "open access" requirements that had protected Net Neutrality since the birth of the Internet. Millions of concerned citizens and hundreds of organizations from across the political spectrum have urged Congress and the FCC to reinstate and enforce Net Neutrality laws to prevent discrimination by cable and phone companies, which dominate nearly 95 percent of the broadband market.

"The Commission has a choice," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. "It can either protect consumers from the abuses of telephone and cable companies, or it can walk away and let the telephone and cable companies chip away at the free and open Internet little by little until they can control consumer use of the network as they please. We will see how serious the Commission is about preserving the neutral, non-discriminatory Internet that encourages innovation without permission."

The petition was filed by Free Press, 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 von Shewick of Stanford Law School and the Stanford Center for Internet & Society.

Free Press and Public Knowledge also filed a complaint against Comcast, asking the FCC to stop Comcast from interfering with Internet traffic and rule that the cable giant's actions directly violate the agency's Internet Policy Statement. The groups proposed fines to deter future violations by Comcast and other Internet service providers.

"Nobody gave Comcast the right to be an Internet gatekeeper," says Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press and co-author of the complaint. "And there is nothing reasonable about telling users which Internet services they can and can't use."

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