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Comcast Defends P2P Management

The nation’s largest cable operator issued comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Tuesday that reiterate, and express in more detail, its position that it does not block content and applications, but uses reasonable techniques to manage high-speed Internet traffic.

Comcast’s 80-page filing comes after the MSO came under fire from network neutrality advocates about how it handles some peer-to-peer traffic, and its purported use of Sandvine Inc. technology to keep upstream traffic in check. (See Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak and Comcast's P2P Problem.)

Last month, the FCC confirmed it would investigate the complaints to ensure “that no consumer is being blocked from a particular type of access in a discriminatory way.” Comments on the matter are due today. (See FCC Eyes Comcast's P2P Policies.)

The timing of the investigation also comes as House Telecom & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is reportedly distributing a draft of a network neutrality bill that would call on the FCC to establish some baseline rules. The SaveTheInternet.com Coalition called the prospect of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 “a blow to the gatekeepers.”

Comcast, which reported having 12.9 million high-speed Internet subscribers at the end of the third quarter (it reports fourth quarter numbers tomorrow morning), held that its traffic managing of certain P2P protocols is perfectly reasonable.

"Importantly, in managing its network, Comcast does not block any content, application, or service; discriminate among providers; or otherwise violate any aspect of the principles set forth in the Internet Policy Statement," the company said in its filing.

The MSO also repeated that a fraction of its customers use bandwidth-heavy P2P applications, and that because those applications are unpredictable and inconsistent, they can overwhelm capacity and affect other cable modem customers. Without “responsible and limited management,” the experience for all customers “would deteriorate to unacceptable levels,” Comcast argued.

The Free Press chided Comcast late last month over claims that it uses “reasonable network management,” and for recently tweaking its terms of service (TOS) to reflect that. The organization argued that the MSO should have invested more network capacity years ago rather than choosing what it called “short-term profits over long-term innovation.”

In comments filed today with the FCC, The Progress & Freedom Foundation president Ken Ferree and PFF senior fellow Bret Swanson defended the use of certain traffic management tools, believing that federal intervention “would undermine the property rights of network operators.”

Moreover, they said traffic shaping is used and accepted by other industries. “[W]hen a busy signal greets our attempt to call home on Mother’s Day, we do not file a complaint with the FCC,” they said.

In its filing, Comcast countered that despite “continuous upgrades and constant investment, the fact remains that network capacity is not -- and never will be -- unlimited.”

However, Comcast and other operators are making network investments that will produce faster cable modem speeds. For its part, Comcast recently launched “Blast!,” a 16 Mbit/s downstream service, in the Bay Area. It's also making preparations to install a Docsis 3.0 architecture -- theoretically creating shared speeds in excess of 100 Mbit/s -- on 20 percent of its footprint by the end of 2008. (See Comcast Has a 'Blast!' in the Bay and Comcast Closes In on 100 Mbit/s.)

The MSO also had a message for the net neutrality crowd: “Simply stated, there is nothing ‘neutral’ about a network that is not managed. An unmanaged network simply means that users who make disproportionately resource-intensive demands on the network can crowd out fellow users.”

Citing Joost , iChat, and Veoh Networks Inc. as examples, Comcast argued that the success of new applications that are “sensitive to interference caused by network congestion... is likely to be impaired” without applied network management.

Comcast also suggested that a brick-and-mortar highway system during rush hour offers an apt analogy to how it how it manages, rather than blocks, P2P upstream traffic: “Once would not claim that the car is ‘blocked’ or ‘prevented’ from entering the freeway; rather, it is briefly delayed, then permitted onto the freeway in its turn while all other traffic is kept moving as expeditiously as possible, thereby ensuring order and averting chaos.”

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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