Vuze, the peer-to-peer entertainment platform that delivers high-definition streaming and downloading, is not happy with Cox Communications’ plans to test new bandwidth management practices designed to slow traffic that isn’t “time-sensitive” during periods of peak network usage.
As Vuze sees it, Cox is reducing its application to second-class status since Cox lists P2P as a primary target for slowing traffic during times of peak network use. The plan, Vuze warned Feb. 3, could possibly violate the FCC’s (Federal Communications Commission) network neutrality rules.
“It remains to be seen whether Cox’s techniques will withstand FCC scrutiny, particularly under a new FCC chairman to be appointed by President Obama, a known supporter of net neutrality,” wrote Jay Monahan, Vuze’s general counsel, on the company’s blog.
Hoping to avoid the network neutrality woes of its cable rival Comcast, Cox said Jan. 27 it plans to manage its network not based on protocol filtering but on the time sensitivity of traffic. Cox pegs Web pages, voice calls, streaming videos and gaming as time-sensitive priorities while file uploads, P2P traffic and Usenet newsgroups may be slowed during peak network use.
Cox said its new network management scheme is “based on the time-sensitive nature of the Internet traffic itself, and we believe it will lead to a smoother Internet experience with fewer delays.” The company also states on its network policy site that the new approach is not based on the owner or source of the traffic.
“Here’s what concerns us. While Cox may consider our content and business to be unimportant or of lower priority, all of the content we deliver through the Vuze HD Network is delivered using our Bittorrent-protocol-based technology,” Monahan wrote. “Suffice it to say, our 10 million users who access over a petabyte of Vuze HD Network content every month care about ‘delay’ of their content.”
In August 2008, the FCC ruled that Comcast violated the agency’s Internet policy when it throttled P2P traffic by BitTorrent during times of peak network load. The agency also found that Comcast misled consumers by not properly disclosing its P2P policy.The FCC didn’t fine Comcast, but ordered Comcast to stop blocking traffic, disclose to the FCC the full extent of the cable giant’s traffic practices and keep the public informed of its future network management plans.
After switching to a “protocol-agnostic” network management plan, Comcast is again under FCC scrutiny over charges that the cable company’s new management practices degrade the sound quality of VOIP (voice over IP) services such as Vonage and Skype that compete with Comcast’s own VOIP service.
“Granted, Cox’s new classification system does not appear to mean that content will be automatically ‘delayed,’ but it’s unclear what the criterion will be for making the determinations of the nature and extent of any delay,” said Monahan. “Nor is it clear what the actual impact will be on the Vuze user experience or others who enjoy the benefits of peer-to-peer technologies.”
Vuze filed a petition last year with the FCC during the Comcast network neutrality dispute accusing the cable giant of improperly interfering with Internet traffic through the use of false reset packets. Vuze asked the FCC to promulgate a set of clear rules that would govern reasonable network management.
Vuze has not filed a complaint against Cox but Monahan said, “We will also be taking steps to monitor instances of actual interference with the delivery of our programming.”
When Cox announced its new network management, the Internet advocacy group Free Press, which successfully brought and pressed the network neutrality complaint against Comcast, was not impressed.
“As a general rule, we’re concerned about any cable or phone company picking winners and losers online,” Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said in a statement. “These kinds of practices cut against the fundamental neutrality of the open Internet. We urge the FCC to subject this practice to close scrutiny and call on Cox to provide its customers with more technical details about exactly what it’s doing.”
Scott said Cox gives little indication about how its new practices will affect Internet users, or if they comply with the FCC’s Internet policies.
“The lesson we learned from the Comcast case is that we must be skeptical of any practice that comes between users and the Internet,” Scott added. “Cox customers will certainly want to know more about how the company is interfering with their Internet traffic and what criteria it uses to discriminate.”
Public Knowledge, another prominent Internet watchdog and a close ally of Free Press, was also critical of the Cox network management plans.
“The sketchy details of the Cox system make little sense,” Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “Usenet is a text-based service, just as is most of e-mail. 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.”