Judge Approves Comcast Traffic Throttling Settlement

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Comcast customers whose broadband service was slowed when the Internet service provider slowed peer-to-peer traffic will be able to get a payment of US$16 under a class-action lawsuit settlement approved by a U.S. judge.

Judge Legrome Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania approved the settlement June 29, and the Lexington Law Group, which represented plaintiff Jon Hart, announced the settlement Thursday.

Comcast will pay up to $16 million to customers in the settlement. Comcast's 15M bps broadband service typically costs $42.95 a month, not including special offers.

Customers have until Aug. 29 to file claims at P2Pcongestionsettlement.com. Those eligible for the $16 payments are former and current Comcast customers used the Ares, BitTorrent, eDonkey, FastTrack or Gnutella P-to-P protocols between April 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2008, and were unable to share files, or believe the file-sharing speeds were affected. Customers who were unable to use Lotus Notes to send e-mail between March 26, 2007, and Oct. 3, 2007, are also eligible.

The settlement is a "great result" for Comcast customers, Mark Todzo, an attorney with Lexington Law Group, said in a statement. "But customers will only get their share of the $16 million if they file a claim."

Despite some media reports, Comcast customers are not admitting to downloading illegal material by filing a claim, Todzo said. "That's absolutely false," he said. "Millions of people use P-to-P protocols for legitimate, legal purposes, and when you file a claim in this case, all you're saying is that you used these protocols and believe your service may have been slowed down."

Networking engineer Robb Topolski, who discovered the Comcast traffic throttling efforts in 2007, called the settlement a bad deal for customers.

"The settlement provides for a maximum payment of $16 per subscriber, which amounts to roughly 1 percent of the amount those subscribers paid for Internet service while Comcast was blocking their uploads," he said. "It not only clearly fails to address Comcast's under-delivery of service, it fails to address the deception that accompanied it. It is absolutely not a fair settlement."

Comcast, however, applauded the settlement. "We are pleased the judge has approved the settlement and we are happy to put this matter behind us," a Comcast spokesman said. "We continue to believe that our network management practices were appropriate and in the best interests of our customers. Our goal at all times was to manage our network effectively for the benefit of all of our customers."

Comcast's practice of slowing P-to-P and other applications came to light in late 2007. The broadband provider first denied it, and later said the traffic throttling was necessary to manage network congestion.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, in August 2008, ordered Comcast to stop slowing P-to-P traffic, but Comcast appealed the order, saying the FCC had no authority to enforce informal network neutrality rules.

In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the FCC.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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