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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