FCC probes Comcast's phone practices

January 20, 2009 1:08:52 PM PST
Comcast Corp., the nation's biggest cable TV operator, is being investigated by the Federal Communications Commission over concerns that it is giving preferential treatment to its phone service at the expense of similar services from competitors. In a letter to Comcast on Sunday, the FCC asked Comcast to justify this "disparate treatment."

Philadelphia-based Comcast said it is reviewing the FCC's letter. It has until Jan. 30 to respond.

Comcast last year changed the way it handles Internet traffic after the FCC cracked down on its practice of delaying peer-to-peer file sharing, an issue that outraged supporters of "network neutrality," which is the idea that Internet service providers should not give certain types of online data better treatment than others. Now, Comcast is slowing down traffic for heavy users if there is Internet congestion in their area, regardless of what type of data they are consuming.

Comcast indicated in a regulatory filing that an Internet phone call placed when the network is congested could sound "choppy." But the FCC noted that Comcast's Web site says that its own phone service is routed over a separate network instead of the public Internet and won't be affected by its new network management practices.

The FCC said that if Comcast isn't routing calls over its broadband network, the phone service could be classified as a telecommunications service subject to regulation and intercarrier fees that phone companies currently pay.

Ben Scott, policy director of consumer advocacy group Free Press, said his group is pleased that the FCC's past sanction on Comcast over its network management practices wasn't a "one-and-done action."

Comcast must submit a response by Jan. 30.

Shares of Comcast fell 71 cents, or nearly 4.6 percent, to $14.62 in midday trading.


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