Critic: Customers should reject Comcast throttling deal

Comcast customers should reject a proposed settlement in a lawsuit filed against the broadband provider for throttling some Internet traffic, a critic of the company said Thursday.

The proposed settlement, announced last December, doesn’t make sense, especially after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled this month that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission didn’t have the authority to enforce its net neutrality principles on Comcast, said Robb Topolski, a veteran networking engineer who discovered Comcast’s network management practices back in 2007.

Topolski, in a blog post, called on Comcast customers to send a letter opting out of the settlement to the settlement administrator by May 13. Under the terms of the settlement, a Comcast customer who had used peer-to-peer software between April 2006 and December 2008 or used Lotus Notes to send e-mail between March and October 2007 would be entitled to a maximum of US$16.

“If people reject the settlement, they are freed from the restrictions of this settlement and can sue independently or join any other action,” Topolski said in an e-mail. “If enough people reject the settlement, it sends a strong message that the class of people that this settlement was intended to represent are dissatisfied.”

A Comcast spokeswoman declined to comment on Topolski’s blog post.

Topolski has criticized the settlement previously, but the appeals court ruling against the FCC now means there’s no regulatory agency to enforce net neutrality rules against broadband providers selectively throttling network traffic, he said.

“Comcast fought the law and the law lost,” wrote Topolski, chief technologist for the Open Technology Initiative of the New America Foundation, a think tank that has supported net neutrality rules. “Turns out that there is no cop on the beat to prevent Comcast, or any other ISP, from again blocking you from the content, applications, or services of your choice!”

The $16 settlement amounts to a rebate of about $0.50 a month to Comcast customers who had their broadband services slowed, he said.

“For two and a half years, Comcast secretly attacked its own customers’ communications by blocking peer-to-peer uploads and other traffic,” Topolski wrote on his blog. “By secretly blocking traffic and hoping that you wouldn’t notice, Comcast took back some of the service that you paid for. Rather than adding capacity as demand increased, Comcast dropped some of your traffic to make room for its very profitable new phone service and millions of new customers.”

The settlement, before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, stems from a lawsuit filed by California Comcast subscriber Jon Hart in November 2007. Comcast has set aside $16 million for the settlement.

Topolski called the settlement inadequate. “If that tiny amount of money is compensation, then there is no penalty to Comcast for interfering with its customers, for failing to disclose it, for repeatedly lying about it, and for taking so long to stop it!” he wrote.

The Associated Press, in late 2007, reported that Comcast was slowing BitTorrent and some other traffic without telling its customers. Comcast first denied slowing traffic, then said it throttled some applications only during times of peak congestion. Studies from the FCC and the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany contended that Comcast slowed BitTorrent traffic around the clock.

Updated at 4:47 p.m. PT to correct an editing error in the second paragraph of the story.

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