Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Screw Net Neutrality, The Internet Regulates Itself

Yesterday, I came across a story about Comcast, the nation's 2nd largest cable provider. The story surrounds a Comcast FCC filing concerning a bandwidth throttling scheme to slow down bandwidth hogs in order to preserve the network for other customers.

Its network throttling implements a two-tier packet queueing system at the routers, driven by two trigger conditions.

Comcast's first traffic throttling trigger is tripped by using more than 70 per cent of your maximum downstream or upstream bandwidth for more than 15 minutes.

Its second traffic throttling trigger is tripped when the Cable Modem Termination System you're hooked-up to – along with up to 15,000 other Comcast subscribers – gets congested, and your traffic is somehow identified as being responsible.

Tripping either of Comcast's high bandwidth usage rate triggers results in throttling for at least 15 minutes, or until your average bandwidth utilisation rate drops below 50 per cent for 15 minutes.

Basically, if you max out your bandwidth for over 15 minutes straight, Comcast will slow you down. That's trigger one. Trigger two occurs when your actions on the internet are congesting your local node. After both triggers, you will be slowed down for 15 minutes.

The blogosphere, on a hair trigger after Comcast's last foray into throttling, spread this story like wildfire after it popped up on Slashdot. Cooler heads paid attention to the date of the original story, which was nearly a year ago.

This system, launched in January of 2009, replaced Comcast's old tactic of using forged TCP packets to throttle upstream P2P traffic for all users, all the time. The new system is actually an improvement, but Comcast's beating yesterday continued.

Electronista joined in, posting a story proclaiming Comcast's throttling as new. They amusingly linked to the Inquirer without giving Slashdot any finder's credit, or noticing the story's ripeness. Pretty soon even our forums started to fill up with posts from confused Comcast users (1, 2) suddenly outraged by a year old change. At this point, entire legions of Internet users were outraged by -- a twelve month old improvement.

To refresh for those who apparently haven't been paying attention: Comcast's old network management techniques included booting users off the network for excessive consumption without defining "excessive," and forging TCP packets to screw up everybody's upstream connections. Comcast's new throttling system was implemented in January of 2009 and combines a clear 250GB month cap with a throttling system that only temporarily targets heavy users on congested nodes.

The reason we don't need any new Net Neutrality legislation is because we are perfectly willing and able to regulate ISPs ourselves.

Comcast's last attempt to throttle their network was a violation of existing law. Their recent throttling scheme, though actually an improvement, still elicited a strong, if somewhat misguided, backlash.

Comcast is in good company though, as they are not the only ISP to feel the sting of consumer scorn. Time Warner Cable attempted to roll out a new tiered pricing scheme, but was thoroughly rejected by consumers.

Consumers are paying attention. They will take the necessary steps to ensure no company hinders the Internet. And they will do a better job of it than the government.

Existing legislation has proven sufficient for the FCC to regulate the internet. I'm going to agree with the Father of the Internet and say we need no new Net Neutrality laws at this time.

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