FCC considers Comcast's net blocking

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Kai Ryssdal: Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin's peeved at Comcast. He wants the company formally reprimanded for improperly blocking some of its Internet users.

If we all were technology geeks, I'd roll out the phrase "network neutrality" right about here and you'd all know exactly what I mean. I'm certainly not up on the latest tech talk, though, so I'll frame it this way: There's been a debate brewing about whether or not Internet users and the applications they use should all be treated equally.

And Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson reports this case has turned into a test of the government's power to do anything about it.


Jeremy Hobson: Comcast is in trouble for slowing down users of the popular file sharing program BitTorrent.

Comcast says when a user is uploading or downloading, a slight interruption won't hurt the way it would if a user was, say, streaming a video -- and we all know how annoying that can be.

Well, the FCC's policy is that Internet service providers can regulate traffic as long as it's "reasonable network management" and Comcast's Joe Waz says that's what the company does.

Joe Waz: We, like all ISP's, manage our network and we've sought to do so reasonably.

But Waz also says Comcast is not bound by the FCC's policy because it's not officially a rule.

Craig Aaron is with the organization Free Press, which brought the Comcast complaint in the first place. He says if ISPs can target certain programs like BitTorrent, what's to stop them from restricting access to, say, certain websites down the road?

Craig Aaron: We need to protect these baseline protections like net neutrality to make sure that in the future, the Internet continues to prosper.

Richard Bennett is a network architect who's followed the issue closely for years, but he's on the fence about net neutrality.

Richard Bennett: I like it in concept but in practice, it's very difficult to enforce through specific regulations.

Still, he says it's long past time for the government to come up with clear rules because users are demanding more bandwidth every day.

Bennett: Today's bandwidth hog is tomorrow's mainstream user.

The FCC will vote on whether to sanction Comcast at a meeting August 1st.

In Washington, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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