Skeptics Eye Cox’s New Network Management

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Cox Cable has introduced a new traffic management system on its broadband network that will "momentarily" throttle data transfers on content it deems less time-sensitive—like file uploads, P2P applications, and Usenet—during periods of network congestion. The new system will be tested in Kansas and Arkansas, and expended to other Cox markets if the trials go well.

According to Cox, the new system automatically categorizes all traffic as "time sensitive" and pushes it through without delay. However, during periods of network congestion, certain types of traffic Cox deems non-time-sensitive may be delayed in favor of other forms of traffic. Types of transfers that the system can downgrade include file access via FTP, access to network storage systems, P2P applications, software updates (such as application and operating system updates), and Usenet. Traffic Cox deems "time-sensitive"—such as voice calls, streaming videos, games, and loading Web pages—would still be pushed through as fast as Cox can manage it.

Cox’s prioritization of Internet traffic would seem to be in contradiction with the FCC’s "Internet Policy Statement," which basically sets the standard for network neutrality, although Cox argues its practices constitute "reasonable network management" under that policy statement. In August of 2008, the FCC sanctioned Comcast for blocking P2P traffic as a network management policy, and has consistently expressed the opinion that network operators should not discriminate against particular types of applications or network traffic.

"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," said Free Press policy director ben Scott, in a statement. "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."

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