FCC: Comcast can't block Web access

WASHINGTON — A divided Federal Communications Commission weighed in on the net-neutrality debate Friday, ruling that Comcast Corp. violated federal policy when it blocked Internet traffic for some subscribers.

In a precedent-setting move, the FCC's 3-2 vote enforced a policy that guarantees customers open access to the Internet.

The commission did not assess a fine, but ordered the cable giant by the end of the year to stop cutting off transfers of large data files among customers who use a special type of file-sharing software.

Comcast says its practices are reasonable, and that the FCC's so-called network-neutrality ”principles“ are part of a policy statement and are not enforceable rules.

Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin proposed the enforcement action and was joined by the two Democratic commissioners in voting for approval. The two other Republicans opposed them.

Martin said Comcast managers were not ”simply managing their network, they had arbitrarily picked an application and blocked their subscribers' access to it.“

Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in a statement the company was ”disappointed in the commission's divided conclusion ....“

The FCC action arose when bloggers reported that Comcast customers who used file-sharing software like BitTorrent were noticing their transmissions were aborting prematurely.

Comcast has said it did not block traffic, but delayed it, and only among users of the file-sharing, peer-to-peer programs that were responsible for taking up a disproportionate share of bandwidth and endangering service for other customers.