Until now Comcast has taken the lead amongst cable companies seeking to rein in P2P and other traffic they have seen as deleterious to the health of their networks. But now Cox Communications has announced its network management plans, and their effort seems to be more aggressive than the watered down version that Comcast retreated to in September. What Cox wants to do is categorize traffic as time-sensitive and non-time-sensitive. When the network is congested, they slow down the latter. When the network is not congested, nothing happens.
So what is non-time-sensitive? Things like FTP downloads, P2P traffic, usenet newsgroups, etc. And what of the rest? Voice, video, webpages - none of those would be deliberately slowed under the plan. They have just these two buckets. So what's the problem? Well, on the surface they seem to be discriminating based on protocol, and that's something the FCC didn't like last time. But really that's a fig leaf, because if they were merely to slow based on protocol people would rewrite applications to favor those protocols that aren't slowed. And actually, Cox isn't limiting itself to merely discriminating based on protocol:
These classifications are a result of our network engineering expertise and our customers' expectations. Our engineers reviewed the traffic on our network, analyzed the requirements of various services and reviewed available research from third-party organizations. We also took into account our customers’ expectations of how these services and applications should perform.
Translation? Cox will choose what traffic fits in what bucket when it wants to and how it wants to. If they manage to get the FCC to approve this plan, there doesn't seem to be anything that would stop them from discriminating based on application. They could, under this policy, decide that certain http or streaming traffic is time-insensitive and treat it differently. In addition, once you have two buckets, there is no logical argument against three buckets.
Of course, Kevin Martin is gone and he was no friend of the cable companies, who knows what Genachowski will do. In fact, that may be the point of Cox's move. They want the new FCC to make its position clear, so they've planted a flag in the sand and dared the FCC to knock it down and in the process tell them what the new rules are. Even though I'm of the opinion that network neutrality is and always will be an illusion even if enforced, I think the FCC will make Cox back down from this plan.