Net Neutrality Advocates Question Comcast Traffic Plan

Net neutrality advocates said Monday that Comcast's newly announced methods for traffic management pose significant questions and are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to scrutinize the company.

Comcast said on Friday that it will deal with congestion on its network by slowing down the connections of the heaviest users, regardless of which applications they are using. The company intends to do so in near real-time, by deprioritizing traffic of Web users who have used a high amount of bandwidth in the previous 15-minute period.

Previously, Comcast managed traffic by slowing peer-to-peer visits--a strategy the FCC found unlawful for violating the principle that all lawful applications be treated equally.

While Comcast's new approach is protocol-neutral, advocates say it still raises concerns. One question posed by Public Knowledge is why Comcast still intends to impose bandwidth caps if it is managing congestion by slowing traffic nearly contemporaneously with high usage.

Last month, Comcast officially said it would impose bandwidth caps of 250 GB a month for consumer accounts.

Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said the 250 GB cap is intended to curb excessive use, which can cause stress on the network without necessarily resulting in congestion.

Robb Topolski, chief technology consultant for net neutrality groups Free Press and Public Knowledge, said he was still analyzing Comcast's papers, but had some preliminary concerns related to Comcast's decision to base decisions about users on their activity in 15-minute increments.

"Comcast's new plan essentially gives consumers the right to 15 minutes worth of their Comcast subscription, after which they are entitled to no bandwidth but are allowed to forage for leftovers," Topolski said. "This is not what users expect from their Internet subscriptions, it's not what designers expect when developing products for the Internet, and it has not yet been approved by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) for use on real users."

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