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Court Unconvinced of FCCs Authority to Punish Comcast

Federal judges spent much of Friday hearing arguments for and against the FCC’s 2008 hand-slapping of Comcast Corp. for slowing peer-to-peer Internet traffic – the court’s ruling will help determine how much authority the FCC holds over net neutrality decisions.

So far, judges’ reactions indicate the FCC is in for a fight. The legal experts “appeared unwilling” to side with the FCC to this point, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“You can’t get an unbridled, roving commission to go about doing good,” U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Chief Judge David Sentelle said during an oral argument.

Another judge, A. Raymond Randolph, chastised FCC lawyers for failing to cite actual communications law that would justify punishing Comcast.

“You have yet to identify a specific statute,” he said, according to the Journal.

The FCC in 2008 instructed Comcast to halt “discriminatory management practices” by the end of that year or it would somehow punish the cable operator. But Comcast has remained insistent the FCC overstepped its bounds. If the court sides with Comcast, that’ll be a coup for ISPs that fear the FCC order could affect their business as well. In late 2007, Comcast came under consumer fire – and subsequent government scrutiny – for throttling peer-to-peer traffic, namely from BitTorrent. Kevin Martin, then-FCC Chairman, was the only Republican on the commission to vote to punish Comcast.

Current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, also wants to impose open Internet rules that would bar Comcast, telcos and other ISPs from blocking or slowing Web content such as peer-to-peer traffic. Genachowski has opened a proceeding on the proposal, which could be finalized this spring. The judges hearing the Comcast appeal also could hand down a ruling by that time.


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