FCC still investigating Comcast over VoIP and bandwidth throttling policies

  • Washington (DC) - On Sunday, the FCC sent a letter to Kathryn A. Zachem, VP of Regulatory Affairs at Comcast. The letter advises that the FCC requires clarification of apparent discrepancies between claims made in an official filing versus observed bandwidth throttling practices. Comcast maintains that VoIP is "separate facilities-based" service, but observations indicate Comcast is not treating VoIP as special, but instead is throttling voice calls made over their network.

    The letter states Comcast's official public policy differs from its practice and that of the filing. The FCC declare that since Comcast identifies its VoIP services as "separate facilities-based," it falls under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and should be treated as a separate telecommunications service. However, observations indicate VoIP data packets are not treated as separate or handled differently, and are actually treated as regular non-VoIP data packets which are subject to existing throttling policies - in contrast to Comcast's publicly stated policy claims.

    The three page letter (scanned image PDF) says in part:

    "We seek clarification with respect to an apparent discrepancy between Comcast's filing and its actual or advertised practices. Specifically, in Appendix B of your September 19 submission, Comcast notes that if a consumer uses 70% of his provisioned bandwidth for 15 minutes or more when his neighborhood Cable Modem Termination System (CMTS) node has been near capacity for a period of 15 minutes or more, that consumer loses priority when routing packages through congested portions of the network ... If such a consumer then places a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) call along a route experiencing actual congestion, Comcast states that consumer may find that his "VoIP call sounds choppy." Critically, the Appendix draws no distinction between Comcast's VoIP offering and those offered by its competitors.
    "Comcast's website, however, suggests that such a distinction does in fact exist. The website claims that 'Comcast Digital Voice is a separate facilities-based IP phone service that is not affected by this [new network management] technique.' Comcast Help & Support, Frequently Asked Questions about Network Management, at [website link] (last visited Jan. 12, 2009) ("Frequently Asked Questions"). It goes on to state, by contrast, that customers of other 'VoIP providers that rely on delivering calls over the public Internet ... may experience a degradation of their call quality at times of network congestion.'"
    The FCC requests "that Comcast explain why it omitted from its filings with the Commission the distinct effects that Comcast's new network management technique has on Comcast's VoIP offering verses those its competitors." The FCC also requests that Comcast "provide a detailed justification for Comcast's disparate treatment of its own VoIP service as compared to that offered by other VoIP providers on its network. In particular, please explain how Comcast Digital Voice is "facilities-based," how Comcast Digital Voice uses Comcast's broadband facilities, and, in particular, whether (and if so, how) Comcast Digital Voice affects network congestion in a different manner than other VoIP services."
    Comcast has until close of business on Friday, January 30, 2009 to respond to this request.