Hey, Cox: Stop Trying to Play God with the Internet

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cox to limit bandwidth
Graphic: Diego Aguirre
Cox Communications has revealed a new bandwidth management plan in which it'll rank the importance of different kinds of Internet use, then limit the bandwidth of "low-priority" actions when its network gets congested. Is it just me, or is the trend of ISPs announcing God-like policies starting to get old?

Cox's Congestion Management Plan

Cox's congestion management plan, posted on its Web site this week, will initially be tested in Kansas and Arkansas starting in February. The policy states that when network traffic gets too high, "less time-sensitive Internet traffic" will be "delayed momentarily."

So what, you might wonder, constitutes "less time-sensitive Internet traffic"? Cox says the following activities fall within the low-priority category:

• File Access (Bulk transfers of data such as FTP)

• Network Storage (Bulk transfers of data for storage)

• P2P (Peer to peer protocols)

• Software Updates (Managed updates such as operating system updates)

• Usenet (Newsgroup related)

That means if you're engaged in any of those seemingly second-class activities and the network gets bogged down, you'll suddenly see your connection slow -- even though you're paying the same price as everyone else for access. The low-priority list may also change or expand in the future, Cox's announcement notes.

Comcast Connection

It was just last summer that the FCC ruled Comcast's system of slowing peer-to-peer traffic on its network was "invasive" and out of line. In the ruling, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin stated the following:

"Would you be okay with the post office opening your mail, deciding they didn't want to bother delivering it, and hiding that fact by sending it back to you stamped, 'address unknown -- return to sender?' Or, if they opened letters mailed to you, decided that because the mail truck is full sometimes, letters to you could wait, and then hid both that they read your letters and delayed them? Unfortunately, that is exactly what Comcast was doing with their subscribers' Internet traffic."

The key issue was that Comcast's system was "discriminatory" in determining which traffic it slowed. Cox, incidentally, was found to be engaging in a similar throttling practice around the same time. Is the company's new proposal truly any different?

Advocates In Action

I'm not the only one feeling a little wary about the return of the self-appointed download deity. Media reform group Free Press, which helped head up the initial efforts against Comcast's system, has expressed "concern" over Cox's new techniques.

"The lesson we learned from the Comcast case is that we must be skeptical of any practice that comes between users and the Internet," says Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press.

"As a general rule, we're concerned about any cable or phone company picking winners and losers online. These kinds of practices cut against the fundamental neutrality of the open Internet," he says.

It's really quite simple: In a time when information is everything, it's not an Internet provider's place to determine what content is worthy of bandwidth and what content isn't. Ranking activities and adjusting their speed is no different. Ultimately, that's called playing God -- and sorry to tell ya, Cox, but your power shouldn't be supreme.

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