NNSquad - Network Neutrality Squad

NNSquad Home Page

NNSquad Mailing List Information


[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[ NNSquad ] Comcast acting anti-competitively


For Immediate Release
November 29, 2010


Public Knowledge, Free Press, Media Access Project, See Zoom Complaint Against Comcast As Reason For FCC To Act


Earlier today, modem manufacturer Zoom Telephonics filed a complaint at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against Comcast, setting out a string of facts which show that the media giant is restricting consumer access to innovative devices by controlling the approval process for cable modems.


You can read a copy of the complaint here. http://www.publicknowledge.org/files/docs/10-11-29Zoom_Complaint.pdf


According to the complaint, the requirements are “unreasonable, irrelevant, time-consuming and costly.” The requirements ranged from paying tens of thousands of dollars for duplicative testing and related expenses (including business class air fare and expensive hotels), to requiring the company to meet standards far in excess of normal consumer electronics needs which have no bearing on whether the cable network would be harmed (including weight, labeling, packaging, waxes to be applied) to “arbitrarily refusing” to test one of Zoom’s modems for distribution.  With Comcast controlling about 40 percent of the national cable market, Zoom said, Comcast’s approval is necessary in order to sell their products.  Comcast is the only cable operator of which Zoom is aware that charges manufacturers for independent testing.


Zoom told the Commission that by its practices, Comcast was violating both the Communications Act and the FCC’s open Internet principles.


Public Knowledge, Free Press and MAP said that the complaint shows that Comcast is continuing its pattern of anti-competitive behavior that it showed in throttling the BitTorrent protocol, and that the proceedings show the need for binding open Internet policies that guarantee the right of consumers to attach devices which don’t harm the network.


Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, said:  “We are disappointed that Comcast has chosen to continue the pattern of behavior which hurts consumers and threatens innovation.  The pattern of facts in this complaint clearly shows Comcast has little regard for consumers by making life difficult for those companies like Zoom that would compete with it.  This issue should certainly be raised in the context of conditions to be placed on Comcast’s takeover of NBC-Universal.


“It is also obvious that Comcast is blatantly disregarding the open Internet principle that allows consumers to attach devices of their choice to the Internet.  By erecting anti-competitive barriers and even declining to process a request to allow a modem to be sold, Comcast is violating the open Internet ideas it has previously said it supports.  This case clearly shows yet again the need for over-arching, simple and clear rules guaranteeing an open Internet.  It is up to the FCC to enact those rules to protect consumers.”


S. Derek Turner, research director, Free Press, said:  "This case clearly establishes that Comcast is engaging in grossly anti-competitive conduct and is a serial violator of the FCC's Net Neutrality policies. Despite its calls for self-regulation, Comcast has demonstrated time and again that it will push the boundaries of the law without any concern for how its actions harm consumers. 

"Not only has Comcast been caught once again violating the FCC's Net Neutrality policy statement — by blocking a consumer's right to use the modems of their choice — but the company has shown that it has no intention of keeping its own voluntary promise to abide by those policies as it seeks regulatory approval for its merger with NBC. That Comcast would so blatantly break its own promises, even while regulators conduct their merger review, raises serious questions as to the company’s trustworthiness and its ability to adhere to any formal conditions placed on the transaction."


Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president of Media Access Project, said:  “This is one more reason why the FCC should block the Comcast's acquisition of NBC.  Time and time again Comcast has demonstrated that it is willing to use its clout to block competition.  The last thing the public needs is a bigger and stronger Comcast.”

Nov. 29, 2010

Excerpts from the Complaint Regarding Comcast Modem Testing Requirements

Comcast has established its own procedures, and is the only cable operator of which Zoom is aware that charges manufacturers for that testing. These procedures go far and above FCC Part 15 testing, which costs $6,000 to $8,000 and takes four weeks testing for radio emissions and similar criteria.  In addition, Underwriter Laboratories (UL) charges another $6,500 to $8,500 for another four weeks for electrical criteria.
CableLabs, the cable industry research consortium, charges $75,000 for testing and can take as long as 12 weeks 

Comcast charges another $25,000 on top of the other tests simply for the operation of the modem.
Separately, it required Physical and Environmental (P&E) tests not applied to Zoom before for modems to be sold at retail.  Comcast delayed testing a new Zoom modem because of a “bottleneck” at its testing facility.

The tests Comcast conducted have nothing to do with preventing harm to the network or preventing theft of service.  Some examples:
Zoom failed the first time because of a chip problem due to delay registering modem w/network after power outage.  This problem, however, would not have caused electronic or physical harm to Comcast’s network.  Neither would it have facilitated theft of service.  The registration delay would have been an inconvenience to the cable modem’s owner.  Additionally, once a cable modem has registered, it is likely to remain connected for a considerable length of time, typically months or even years, before it experiences a service disruption, depending, for instance, on the time until the next power outage.

Approved in June, 2 months after said it would be.

For new DOCSIS 2.0 model, Comcast said it was under no obligation to test.  When Zoom CEO Frank Manning said the FCC would not accept that,  Jason Livingood, Comcast exec. dir. of Internet Systems Engineering turned over negotiations over to Jeffrey Smith, Comcast Vice President and Deputy General Counsel because Manning mentioned FCC. (Sept. 9)

Smith answered Mr. Manning’s letter on October 6, 2010.  In his response, Mr. Smith stated that “Comcast ceased its review and certification of DOCSIS 2.0 devices approximately one year ago.”  In his October 6 letter, Mr. Smith also took the position that “Comcast is under no obligation to certify Zoom’s or any other vendor’s high speed Internet devices for use with Comcast’s broadband Internet network.” 

He agreed to test on Oct. 12, but with the addition of the P&E.  Zoom tried to get out of it, saying it was only for retail. Livingood refused to waive Comcast’s P&E tests.  Rather, he indicated that Comcast’s “testing/cert policies continue to evolve” and that Comcast now believed “it is important that all devices in the network, whether customer-purchased or Comcast-purchased, should pass P&E evaluation.”

What’s involved in P&E, none of which has anything to do with harm to the network or prevention of theft of service:

1)    performance of cable modems at temperatures far above those generally found in the United States and far above those at which many other electronic devices are designed to operate.

2)    Comcast places greater restrictions on the surface temperatures of cable modems than are found in UL safety standards

3)    Comcast regulates how the prolonged application of certain substances to a cable modem affects its appearance

4)    Comcast regulates a cable modem’s weight

5)    Comcast regulates the strength of a cable modem’s packaging.

6)    Comcast places labeling requirements on cable modems

7)    Comcast sets forth rules regarding the placement of a bar code label on a cable modem’s packaging

8)    Comcast sets absurd standards for testing the robustness of a cable modem’s buttons and switches.

After all of that, “Comcast requires a cable modem manufacturer to pay for Comcast personnel to travel via business class and stay at an expensive hotel while two weeks of site inspections at the manufacturing facility is carried out.  In the case of Zoom’s new DOCSIS 2.0 cable modem model, this would involve a trip to Asia.”

Art Brodsky
Communications Director
(202) 861-0020 ext 103 (o) (301) 908-7715 (c)
1818 N St., NW  Suite 410
Washington, D.C.  20036 www.publicknowledge.org