Professional Complainers Blast Cox

Cox Cable announced plans to test a new traffic management system intended to improve the Internet experience of most of their customers yesterday, and the reaction from the network neutrality lobby came fast and furious. The system will separate latency-sensitive traffic from bulk data transfers and adjust priorities appropriately, which is the sort of thing that Internet fans should cheer. In its essence, the Internet is a resource contention system that should, in most cases, resolve competing demands for bandwidth in favor of customer perception and experience. When I testified at the FCC’s first hearing on network management practices last February, I spent half my time on this point and all other witnesses agreed with me: applications have diverse needs, and the network should do its best to meet all of them. That’s what we expect from a “multi-purpose network”, after all.

So now that Cox wants to raise the priority of VoIP and gaming traffic over background file transfers, everybody should be happy. The neutralists have always said in public fora that they support boosting VoIP’s priority over P2P, and Kevin Martin’s press release about the Comcast order said he was OK with special treatment for VoIP. And in fact the failure of the new Comcast system to provide such special treatment is at the root of the FCC’s recent investigation of Comcast, which was praised by the neuts.

So how is it that the very people who complain about Comcast’s failure to boost VoIP priority are now complaining about Cox? Free Press’s general-purpose gadfly Ben Scott is practically jumping up and down pounding the table over it:

Consumer advocates certainly aren’t impressed. “The information provided by Cox gives little indication about how its new practices will impact Internet users, or if they comply with the FCC’s Internet Policy Statement,” says consumer advocacy firm Free Press in a statement. “As a general rule, we’re concerned about any cable or phone company picking winners and losers online.”

“Picking winners and losers” is bad, and failing to pick winners and losers is also bad. The only thread of consistency in the complaints against cable, DSL, and FTTH providers is a lack of consistency.

Make up your mind, Ben Scott, do you want an Internet in which Vuze can step all over Skype or don’t you?

UPDATE: For a little back-and-forth, see Cade Metz’ article on this The Register, the world’s finest tech site. Cade quotes EFF’s Peter Eckersley to the effect that Cox is “presuming to know what users want.” They are, but it’s not that hard to figure out that VoIP users want good-quality phone calls: a three-year-old knows that much.

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7 Responses to Professional Complainers Blast Cox

  1. Wes Felter says:

    However, if Alice’s Web traffic has higher priority than Bob’s P2P traffic, we can expect Bob to try to disguise his P2P as Web. It would be nice to have a system that can’t be gamed.

  2. All prioritizaitions decisions shall be refered to a committee of stakeholders – as in, Google, BitTorrent, Vuze, Harvard, etc.

    I think I’m making a joke, but maybe not.

  3. Brett Glass says:

    And of course, not a single person who is actually in the business of providing Internet service will be allowed onto the committee. After all, we can’t possibly understand what our users want!

  4. John says:

    There should be a network management system that allows users decide the choice of how the network be managed.

  5. Brett Glass says:

    John, I’m sure you realize that if users decide how the network will be managed, many would simply say, “Give me all the bandwidth! At zero cost! Without limits! Now! Who cares about any of the other users!”

    Ultimately, the provider has to make the hard choices about how to manage the network. Users can vote for or against those choices with their wallets (with which they can buy more bandwidth) or with their feet (by going to a competitor). My ISP occasionally loses a customer because he wants to hog bandwidth and we won’t let him. So be it; we’ll give him a refund and he can hog bandwidth on a competitor’s network if that competitor will let him. But we are a small company. We cannot afford to let a bandwidth hog degrade service for other users or cost us more for bandwidth than he’s paying. And no one should expect us to. Cox is conforming to industry best practices.

  6. max says:

    “John, I’m sure you realize that if users decide how the network will be managed, many would simply say, “Give me all the bandwidth! At zero cost! Without limits! Now! Who cares about any of the other users!””

    AT&T honors customer tagged DSCP values; so do a bunch of other ISPs. I know it’s not “Allowing users to manage the network” but it certainly gives them the option of providing suggestions at congestion points.

    I don’t think John was suggesting that you not be allowed to prevent users from doing something stupid vis a vis network management; but rather provide a mechanism to allow users to specify which applications of theirs should have priority on your network.

    The idea that the scary evil government will prevent you from marking down a customers priority setting if it doesn’t make any sense (For example Expedited Forwarding for FTP) is pretty far fetched.

    Beyond that, I don’t see anything wrong with what Cox is doing; the neuts appear to be smoking crack again.

    That being said, I think it would be more valuable if users were given a say in the prioritization scheme either via modification of their CPE or something more sophisticated; it would certainly minimize the amount of neut generated noise and give them one less thing to complain about.


  7. Brett Glass says:

    99.5% of all users simply want everything about which they are impatient to be fast. There might be a half of a percent who would want to set their own priorities and were capable of understanding what they were doing. As ISPs, we must cater to the overwhelming majority. The heavy duty techies can buy business class service from us — a saturable link with no duty cycle restrictions and a simple hard limit. They can then do their own bandwidth management.

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