Comcast in Hot Water over Web Blocking

WASHINGTON - Members of the Federal Communications Commission cast a majority vote in favor of penalizing Comcast last Friday for obstructing subscribers' Internet traffic, according to an agency official. 

The cable giant was charged with violating agency standards that pledge open access to the Internet for customers, The Associated Press reported. The violations originated from a complaint leveraged against Comcast for blocking Internet traffic among users of a certain type of "file sharing" software that facilitates the transfer of large amounts of data.

The decision will remain open until all five members have the opportunity to vote. The commission is scheduled to address the subject Aug. 1.  

Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein and Republican Chairman Kevin Martin all voted in favor of finding the company in violation, according to the official who asked to remain anonymous until the vote was final.

The text of the order is not public, but Martin has said it will not include a fine. He also mentioned it will oblige Comcast to cease arbitrarily blocking customers.

"I continue to believe that is imperative that all consumers have unfettered access to the Internet," Martin said in a statement released Saturday. "I am pleased that a majority has agreed that the Commission both has the authority to and in fact will stop broadband service providers when they block or interfere with subscribers' access."

According to The Associated Press, the Federal Communications Commission approved a policy statement in September 2005 that outlined a set of principles meant to ensure that broadband networks are "widely deployed, open, affordable and accessible to all consumers."

In a statement released Friday by Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, she said the company's network management practices are "reasonable, wholly consistent with industry practices and that we did not block access to Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services."