Comcast Settles P2P Class-Action Suit

Comcast has reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit stemming from its alleged blocking of peer-to-peer traffic, agreeing to pay up to $16 million to a group of plaintiffs in a case that consolidated multiple actions against the cable giant.

For individual claimants, however, the payout is capped at $16.

A U.S. District Court judge in Pennsylvania’s Eastern District granted preliminary approval for the settlement, which takes a modest step toward resolving complaints that Comcast offered specific upload and download speeds, but then secretly throttled legal P2P file transfers.

The larger issues of Comcast’s network management practices, and the action federal regulators took against the provider in 2008, are still playing out in a federal appeals court in Washington.

Last August, the Federal Communications Commission moved to rebuke Comcast for throttling BitTorrent traffic, ordering the company to move to a protocol-agnostic system of network management and to update its usage terms to make more meaningful disclosures to consumers. Ahead of the commission’s ruling, Comcast had already committed to a nondiscriminatory network policy, but challenged the FCC’s legal authority to intervene in the matter.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on Jan. 8, 2010.

That case has cast a long shadow on the network neutrality debate, which recently resurfaced as the FCC, under new leadership, proposed to expand and enshrine the policy statement used against Comcast into binding rules, eliminating the ambiguous enforcement authority that Comcast is now fighting in court. The FCC is expected to vote on the Net neutrality proposal early next year, likely before Comcast’s lawsuit is resolved.

In the meantime, the class-action settlement would end a lawsuit Jon Hart brought against Comcast in a California court in November 2007, alleging that the company disrupted traffic that used BitTorrent and other file-transfer protocols. The case was later moved to a court in Pennsylvania.

Hart stands to receive $2,500 from the settlement.

Comcast admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement agreement. The company has committed to a protocol-agnostic policy, but remains adamant about the need to manage traffic during times of peak usage to ensure an overall quality of service throughout the network.

Subscribers who attempted to access peer-to-peer protocols such as BitTorrent, Ares and Gnutella from April 2006 through Dec. 31, 2008, when Comcast implemented its new network policies, are eligible to be included in the settlement. Users wishing to obtain a credit or refund through the settlement must submit a claim by Aug. 14, 2010.

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