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App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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February 15, 2008 8:25 AM

Comcast's Metered Highway Meets Vuze's Muddy Racetrack

Earlier this week Comcast submitted comments to the FCC defending their right to slow down traffic on its network.

The analogy they used to describe how they manage P2P traffic was that of an on-ramp to a busy highway that regulates how quickly cars get on and off in order to manage congestion and keep traffic flowing.

Vuze, the P2P video company who initiated the FCC’s inquiry into Comcast’s practices, responded with an analogy comparing what Comcast’s been doing to a horse race where Comcast owns the track, is running their own horse, and slowing all the other horses down.

Many others have chimed in lambasting Comcast’s defense over the last few days, citing this as a prime example of a network operator exerting undue influence over the bits traveling through their pipes.

But I have to say, despite my desire for a free and open Internet, critics of Comcast are missing some very key points.

First off, cable systems are shared networks. So when they say that one user’s P2P usage can negatively impact their neighbor’s, that’s the truth.

This isn’t a smokescreen to allow them to squeeze out legitimate Internet traffic; this is them admitting that the growth in demand for bandwidth is outstripping the capacity of their network to handle it.

Which leads to my second point: what would happen if they couldn’t manage traffic on their network to reduce congestion? Won’t that result in more congestion and therefore reduced performance that will harm all applications and use of the Internet for Comcast users?

That is the point everyone seems to be missing.

To use an analogy to help explain let’s go back to the horse race. So Comcast’s network is a race track. But it’s a race track that’s only designed to handle X number of horses weighing Y number of pounds to run Z number of races in a day. As you start putting additional, heavier horses running races more frequently, the race track will begin to deteriorate, which will create unsteady footing that will slow down horses and lead to more crashes that prevent them from finishing the race.

On a racetrack with limited capacity there can be only a certain number of horses running a limited number of races before it starts to degrade performance for everyone.

And again, this isn’t a matter of Comcast being evil; it’s them admitting the limitations of their network.

So now, what to do? Do we force them to allow all horses onto their race track to run as much as they want thereby likely destroying the track and bringing the network down? Or might we better served focusing on making sure that they’re being upfront with the public as to the limitations of their network so that we can make informed decisions as to whether or not we want to bet on their track?

Now I know that these issues aren’t this cut and dry, especially in areas where cable is the only viable broadband option (like where I live, 8 blocks off the National Mall). And the topic of net neutrality and network management are regaining momentum following Congressman Markey’s re-introduction of his reworked Internet freedom bill earlier this week.

So for these reasons, I’m excited to announce that next week will be Net Neutrality Week on App-Rising.com. Every day you’ll get a post explaining a different facet of this complex issue as well as thoughts on what solutions are available to help us find some level of resolution to this contentious debate so that we can move forward with the many other pressing topics for us to tackle as we continue the Great Broadband Debate of 2008.


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Comments (1)

I like your use of stating the opposition's argument, and then responding to it. I would add one other consideration. Broadband infrastructure is what cable and telco encumbents like to think they're providing. When they act, however, they speak only in terms of a business model designed to maximize profits. They can't reconcile these two opposing positions. They need to choose one, and let the owners decide which they'll accept. This leads to our dilemma, as owners. Where do we look, if there is no broadband infrastructure, just corporations seeking to maximize profits?

Posted by Tom Poe on February 15, 2008 6:33 PM

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