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Cox to Test New Bandwidth Cop

Jeff Baumgartner
1/28/2009

In the wake of criticisms about the way it has historically handled peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic, Cox Communications Inc. plans to start testing a new Internet traffic management system next month in Kansas and Arkansas.

Cox told Cable Digital News earlier this month that it had teams "evaluating a new technology, which is being lab and field tested." More recently, the MSO dropped details about those efforts onto a policy page.

The MSO will start testing the new congestion management system in February.

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has gotten the most scrutiny for its bandwidth management system that throttled some P2P traffic, resulting in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) probe and subsequent order that mandated the MSO move off the system by the end of 2008. But a study from the Max Planck Institute released last May hit Cox and StarHub of Singapore with similar allegations. Cox has acknowledged that its past bandwidth management policies were based on "traffic prioritization and protocol filtering." (See Study Alleges a Cox Block on P2P Traffic.)

Cox officials did not immediately respond to an inquiry Tuesday evening, but the company told the Associated Press that it started to evaluate its old bandwidth management system after the FCC hit Comcast with the order.

Comcast, by the way, is not out of the regulatory woods yet. The FCC has also launched a probe to find out whether the MSO is discriminating against competitive VoIP service providers that ride on top of its high-speed network. (See Comcast Faces VoIP Probe .)

As Cox describes it, the new bandwidth cop it's testing shares traits with the "protocol agnostic" system Comcast implemented last year. Comcast's system slows down customer connections temporarily during periods of high congestion. (See Comcast Goes 'Protocol Agnostic' Everywhere .)

Cox notes on its policy page that its system will delay only certain types of Internet traffic when its broadband pipes experience clogging, though most users likely "won't notice any effect at all":

    During the occasional times the network is congested, this new technology automatically ensures that all time-sensitive Internet traffic – such as web pages, voice calls, streaming videos and gaming – moves without delay. Less time-sensitive traffic, such as file uploads, peer-to-peer and Usenet newsgroups, may be delayed momentarily – but only when the local network is congested.
Cox notes that traffic "resumes its normal flow" once network congestion is mitigated.

The table below further describes which types of Internet traffic Cox qualifies as "time sensitive" and "non-time sensitive." Table 1: What's Sensitive?
Time Sensitive
  • Web (Web surfing, including Web-based email and chat embedded in Web pages)
  • VoIP (voice over IP, telephone calls made over the Internet)
  • Email
  • IM (instant messages, including related voice and Webcam traffic)
  • Streaming (Web-based audio and video programs)
  • Games (online interactive games)
  • Tunneling & Remote Connectivity (VPN-type services for telecommuting)
  • Other (any service not categorized into another area)


  • Non-Time Sensitive
    • File Access (bulk transfers of data such as FTP)
    • Network Storage (bulk transfers of data for storage)
    • P2P (peer-to-peer protocols)
    • Software Updates (managed updates such as operating system updates)
    • Usenet (newsgroup related)
    • Source: Cox Communications.
      Cox said it established these classifications based on its own internal analsysis and from a review of research from third-party organizations and "our customers' expectations of how these services and applications should perform."




      But these designations have drawn concern from Free Press , a chief opponent of Comcast's older bandwidth management system.

      "As a general rule, we're concerned about any cable or phone company picking winners and losers online," Free Press policy director Ben Scott said in a statement. "We urge the FCC to subject this practice to close scrutiny and call on Cox to provide its customers with more technical detail about exactly what it's doing."

      If the new method is deemed a success, Cox anticipates rolling it out to additional markets in 2009. In the meantime, Cox is notifying customers in the two trial markets through email and postal mail.

      Swinging with Sandvine?
      Cox hasn't revealed which vendors' technologies are involved in its test drive.

      "At present, this trial is based on policies that are designated to create a more customer-friendly user experience rather than a particular equipment platform," a Cox official responded Wednesday afternoon via email.

      If Cox does go with a vendor, a likely candidate is Sandvine Inc. , which revealed in a mid-January earnings call that a second U.S. MSO purchased the vendor's Fairshare congestion management servers in the fourth quarter. Comcast, of course, was the first. (See Sandvine Swings Second Fairshare Deal and Comcast Details Net Management Moves .)

      "While this [second deal] is not on the same scale as Comcast, we are very encouraged with the traction," Sandvine president and CEO Dave Caputo said at the time.

      Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Camiant Inc. are among other vendors that have developed new bandwidth management systems. (See Arris Makes 'Fair' Play and Camiant Commissions New Bandwidth Cop.)

      — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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