FCC asked to stop ISP traffic 'throttling'

Video firm says broadband providers slow peer-to-peer traffic

WASHINGTON -- A distributor of online video content has filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, asking the agency to stop broadband providers from blocking or slowing peer-to-peer traffic.

The petition filed by Vuze, which uses the BitTorrent peer-to-peer protocol to distribute Web content, asks the FCC to set rules for network management by Internet service providers. Vuze's filing late Wednesday follows reports last month that cable broadband provider Comcast Corp. slows some peer-to-peer traffic, including BitTorrent.

Broadband providers often promote their services as being necessary for watching video online, but then they slow access to a service like Vuze's, said John Fernandes, Vuze's vice president of marketing. "They say that they're engaging in reasonable network management, but what they're doing is slowing down some traffic," he said.

Vuze, which has partnerships with several movie studios, television networks and PC game makers, wants to start a dialogue about what kind of network management is allowed, added Gilles BianRosa, the company's CEO. But he said the FCC needs to prohibit large-scale content blocking, or what BianRosa referred to as traffic "throttling."

"The ISPs cannot decide unilaterally what to do with third-party Internet services such as us," BianRosa said. "We need to work with them to design a solution that works and is fair."

By blocking or slowing video and other Web content, Internet service providers are fighting against customer demand for more multimedia services, BianRosa added. "We think that ISPs are spitting into the wind with that kind of approach," he said. "This kind of blocking has to stop."

Representatives of two large broadband providers, Comcast and Verizon Communications Inc., didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on Vuze's FCC filing. Comcast has denied blocking Web content, but some broadband providers have opposed other attempts to create rules against blocking some types of traffic, saying they need to be able to ensure quality of service by managing their networks.

The FCC has all the authority it needs to "address claims of unreasonable conduct," an AT&T spokesman said. "Broadband providers must have the ability to manage traffic to provide all consumers with high-quality service," he added. "Additional rules or legislation are totally unnecessary."

Vuze's FCC petition is similar in some ways to calls by consumer groups and Internet-based companies for the FCC or Congress to pass Net neutrality rules, which would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing Web content from competitors. The FCC has had an open inquiry into Net neutrality rules since April, and a push to pass rules in Congress has stalled.

But the Vuze proposal is more focused than Net neutrality, BianRosa said. Net neutrality often includes other issues in addition to content blocking, including requirements for broadband and wireless providers to allow all legal devices to connect to their networks. Vuze is asking the FCC to "dig deeper" than the Net neutrality debate, he said.

Public Knowledge, a group promoting consumer rights on the Internet, praised the Vuze filing. Vuze is a good example of the harm caused by content blocking, said Gigi Sohn, Public Knowledge's president.

"Comcast's actions frustrate Vuze's business and force the company to devote resources to play a 'cat and mouse' game with Comcast in order to maintain superior service for its customers," Sohn said in an e-mail. "We hope the FCC acts promptly before even more harm is done to more consumers and to more companies."

Earlier this week, a Comcast customer in California filed a lawsuit against the company, saying the provider has caused several Web-based programs to suffer performance problems. In late October, Public Knowledge and other members of the Open Internet Coalition filed a complaint about the alleged Comcast blocking with the FCC.

Vuze, based in Palo Alto, Calif., distributes video in partnership with movie studios and television networks including the BBC, Showtime and PBS. It also distributes PC games, music videos and audio files. Company officials say the Vuze client has been installed by customers more than 12 million times since the company, formerly called Azureus, rebranded itself in January.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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