Is Comcast plan suspect or 'reasonable'?

Network neutrality advocates are taking contrasting views towards Comcast's new network management plan. The new plan de-prioritizes heavy users in 15-minute chunks.

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Network neutrality advocates are taking contrasting views towards Comcast's new network management plan. The new plan de-prioritizes heavy users in 15-minute chunks. If your upload traffic is more than 70% of maximum bandwidth or your download traffic is more than 80% of max, you'll be de-prioritized.

Free Press/Public Knowledge looks askance at the plan. Robb Topolski, technology analyst for the groups, said:

"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." (MediaPost)

But EFF's Peter Eckersley finds the long-range plan a "reasonable attempt at sharing limited bandwidth amongst groups of users."

Unlike TCP RST spoofing, it doesn't explicitly discriminate against some applications, and it doesn't threaten protocol developers with interoperability problems and uncertainty about network behavior.

If you're seeding large files over BitTorrent or a P2P network, there's a "fair chance" you'll be deprioritized, Eckersley said. And low priority may mean really low.

The low priority systems get to send when and only when there is a gap in the high priority traffic. Only real-world experimentation will give us qualitative measures of the impact of de-prioritization. It's likely that large background data transfers (like the ones that trigger de-prioritization in the first place) will continue to work, but a little more slowly than previously.

The impact of low priority on other kinds of applications — especially interactive apps like network games, VOIP, ssh sessions, etc, is likely to be more severe. If you happen to be using these kinds of latency-sensitive programs at the same time as 70% or more of your upload capacity, you can expect to suffer a bit!

I agree that Comcast is doing it as well as they can this time around. And it would be fine if Comcast existed in a competitive environment. In an ideal world there would competition among providers, which would result in higher capacity and lower prices not lower capacity and higher prices. But since our government has given companies like Comcast monopolies or at best duopolies in most places, few consumers will be voting with their feet.

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