Comcast Has Some Explaining To Do

January 20th, 2009 by · 1 Comment

Over the weekend, the FCC filed a letter to Comcast asking for more information about the network management plan they rolled out in September.  That plan seemed pretty bland at the time, slowing bandwidth speeds for bandwidth hogs based simply on total usage rather than targeting specific applications.  What's the problem?  Well, it seems that Comcast's VoIP platform doesn't get slowed down when this happens, whereas other VoIP traffic does.  Where Comcast got the brilliant idea to advertise this as an advantage despite how it looks I'll never know, it's as if someone put a kick-me sign on their own butt.

How it is done technically is the easy part of course, Comcast can tag its own VoIP traffic and just let it through, if nothing else to ensure that E911 calls and such don't get slowed.  They may argue that in order to treat other VoIP traffic similarly they would need to use deep packet inspection just to find it, and that using such gear is what got them in trouble in the first place last year.   So are they or are they not allowed to target applications via deep packet inspection?

The whole situation is upside down, you see.  Comcast's first attempt was to find and target the traffic from 'bad' applications like P2P, and they got slapped down for it.  So they set things up such that they throttle indiscriminately when congested.  Then they target the 'good' traffic and don't throttle it - and they can't look for other 'good' traffic because they were told not to.

Legislating network neutrality is hard, if not impossible.  Is the FCC now going to tell Comcast to throttle people's E911 calls?   You know, to make things fair...   Or are they going to mandate deep packet inspection gear for any ISP that wants to provide better E911 connectivity?  You know, you can't have that candy unless you brought enough for everyone in the class.  Ugh, what a mess.  I suppose what has to happen is some sort of standard tagging mechanism be accepted by ISPs and VoIP companies for VoIP traffic or at least for E911 VoIP traffic.  But that opens new cans of worms - why stop with VoIP?  Maybe they'll agree on such a standard by the end of the next decade when it is safely irrelevant.  Or perhaps our new FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski (aka Jules) will find a better way?

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Categories: Cable · Government Regulations · Internet Traffic · VoIP

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  • claus says:

    Great article and fun to read! I’m just wondering why comcast should prioritize other non-comcast VoIP traffic in the first place. I have the feeling that a lot of the trouble withe these regulations come from the attempt to find laws and procedures for things that didn’t happen yet (a carrier only allowing traffic to its own services with ‘best effort’ slowing down to 1kbps) and about which we don’t know if and when and why they would happen.

    How would a carrier application become so powerful that it can satisfy the need of the ISP’s majority and only a very tiny minority would complain about access? Because otherwise people would switch to different providers where that is not the case. And I believe if that opportunity is out there, someone (new or existing ISP) will take advantage of it. What’s crucial at that time then is preventing a monopoly that strangles competitors. But we have laws and regulations for that.

    I’ll post a link to a recent Bruce Schneier article that gives an interesting twist on that once I’m back in the office.

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