On Comcast’s New Network Management Policies

by Devanshu Mehta

intenet-censorship

Comcast has come a long way. Until recently, they were a company that deliberately injected spurious packets to slow down particular applications. They called that normal network management.

Now, comes an official Terms of Service and FAQ that address how Comcast will deal with network management going forward, and they are a huge improvement. Here are some of the key points:

Comcast has legitimate reasons to inspect network activity.
Let’s get the silly stuff out of the way first. Comcast has the right to do the following:

If we didn’t manage our network, our customers would be subject to the negative effects of spam, viruses, security attacks, network congestion, and other risks and degradations of the service. By engaging in reasonable and responsible network management, Comcast can deliver the best possible broadband Internet experience to all of its customers.

The question is, how do they implement it and how do they discriminate?

So how does it work?
This is pretty good- it is closer to a stupid network. If there is no network congestion, no one is affected. During congestion, bandwidth is shared as fairly as possible- except for users who are using the greatest amount of bandwidth. These users will get “managed” temporarily. This management will persist only as long as congestion exists, and will be based on current usage, not monthly aggregates.

How does it discriminate?
Based on high usage during congestion.

It does not discriminate based on protocols, applications, services or content. Any high bandwidth users will be affected, including ones using Comcast’s own streaming services.

Will it target P2P?
No, it is protocol-agnostic. If a P2P user happens to be a (recent) high bandwidth user during congestion, they will be affected. But not because they are using P2P.

Will it target competitors?
No. In fact, Comcast admits it will even affect people using Comcast’s own services.

What about the future?
They say they will participate in IETF and other standards bodies to work out reasonable, standard network management practices. And they will be transparent about new policies through the terms of service.

All in all, it is a tremendous step forward. Thank you to everyone who made enough noise to make this happen- especially Rob Topolski and the EFF. Also, thanks to Comcast for bungling this thing so bad that it got everyone’s attention and then setting a good example for other ISPs with these terms of service.

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