Cox's Plan To Interfere With Net Traffic Draws Criticism
"It is certainly a horrible idea and it's not the way the Internet ought to work," said Robb Topolski, chief technology consultant for broadband advocacy groups Free Press and Public Knowledge. "When I first heard about it, I thought it was an early April Fool's joke."
Cox, the third-largest cable company, said Tuesday that it intends to test a plan to manage congestion by occasionally prioritizing "time sensitive" traffic while slowing down other, less urgent material. The time-sensitive traffic includes Web streaming, email, instant messaging, games and remote connectivity. The material categorized as susceptible to delay includes bulk transfers of data for storage or file access, peer-to-peer protocols, software updates and Usenet newsgroups.
Topolski and other open Internet advocates criticize Cox's classifications as well as its methodology. Net neutrality supporters say that broadband companies should transmit traffic without discriminating between types of content or applications.
"Cox is picking winners and losers for the Internet, and that is simply not the way a network operator ought to behave," he said. "You can't tell from the protocol whether or not something is time-sensitive," Topolski added. What's more, he said, Cox's categories are internally inconsistent. For instance, Cox says it will prioritize streaming but not peer-to-peer traffic--but sites that stream video often use peer-to-peer protocols to do so.
Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, likewise condemned the new plan. "The sketchy details of the Cox system make little sense," she said in a statement. "Usenet is a text-based service, just as is most of email. There should be no distinction between them. Video streaming takes up much more network capacity than peer-to-peer, yet is given Cox's seal of approval."
Catherine Sandoval, a communications law expert and assistant law professor at Santa Clara University, added that the new plan "is explicitly not neutral in giving priority to some Internet traffic over others."
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission sanctioned Comcast for slowing some peer-to-peer traffic.
In its order, the agency said Comcast violated principles set out in a 2005 policy statement, including that consumers are entitled to run lawful applications and use services of their choice, and to access all lawful content. Comcast appealed that ruling to the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington, where the matter is still pending.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany reported last May that Cox also previously slowed peer-to-peer traffic. The company is believed to have stopped doing so sometime last year.
Separately, Google Wednesday unveiled a new site, Measurement Lab, where users can test their broadband connections to determine whether Internet service providers are interfering with traffic.