Comcast throttling BitTorrent was no big deal, FCC says


The most obvious reason that network neutrality violations have been rare since Comcast's throttling of BitTorrent is that the Federal Communications Commission has enforced net neutrality rules since 2010 (aside from a year-long interlude without rules caused by a Verizon lawsuit). But to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, this just proves that the rules aren't necessary. "Because of the paucity of concrete evidence of harms to the openness of the Internet, the [2015 net neutrality] Order and its proponents have heavily relied on purely speculative threats," Pai's proposal says. "We do not believe hypothetical harms, unsupported by empirical data, economic theory, or even recent anecdotes, provide a basis for public-utility regulation of ISPs."

Pai is breaking with previous FCC Republicans with his attempt to downplay the importance of Comcast/BitTorrent. In 2008, the FCC—then led by Bush appointee Kevin Martin—argued in its decision to punish Comcast that BitTorrent file sharing had "become a competitive threat to cable operators such as Comcast because Internet users have the opportunity to view high-quality video with BitTorrent that they might otherwise watch (and pay for) on cable television." The threat was particularly acute to Comcast's video-on-demand service, the 2008 FCC also said.

Pai argues that ISPs will voluntarily stop bad behavior once it is exposed. "As public access to information on ISP practices has increased, there has been a shift toward ISPs resolving openness issues themselves with less and less need for Commission intervention," Pai's anti-net neutrality proposal says. For example, "In 2008, Comcast reached a settlement with BitTorrent months before the Commission issued [the] Comcast-BitTorrent [order]." Of course, that only happened after research by the Associated Press and Electronic Frontier Foundation confirmed Comcast's BitTorrent throttling.

Net neutrality advocates have urged the FCC to conduct a fuller examination of possible net neutrality violations before proceeding with the repeal. The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) pressured the FCC to release the text of tens of thousands of net neutrality complaints the commission has received since the 2015 version of the rules took effect. Pai's proposal dismisses these complaints by saying that most of them "have not been verified."

Comcast throttling BitTorrent was no big deal, FCC says