Cox may be the next cable company in glare of the peer-to-peer spotlight, following Comcast’s entanglement in an ongoing brouhaha over its "blocking" of certain file-sharing traffic.
Broadband discussion site DSLreports.com published a post Thursday describing what one of its members claimed is "conclusive proof that Cox is interfering" with a particular peer-to-peer application. Robb Topolski, who conducted the test, is apparently the same guy who kicked off the Comcast P2P furor.
In Topolski’s test, a user in Tel-Aviv, Israel, attempted to connect to a Cox user in the U.S. using a file-sharing program called eDonkey — but that the upload connection attempts were disrupted by a network command issued by Cox’s network equipment. (UPDATE: Cox spokesman David Grabert e-mailed a statement: "To ensure the best possible online experience for our customers, Cox actively manages network traffic through a variety of methods including traffic prioritization and protocol filtering. Cox does not prohibit the use of file-sharing services for uploads or downloads, or discriminate against any specific services in any way." He also said Cox’s network-management practices are outlined in its subscriber agreement and acceptable use policy.)
According to DSLreports.com, it’s the same "spoofing" technique used by Comcast, which was the subject of an AP exposé last month. That report said the company was blocking P2P but a subsequent AP report noted Comcast was delaying (not blocking) connections.
Proponents of net neutrality — who want to codify into law the Internet tradition of not providing different levels of service to different users or applications — are trying to make as much hay as possible out of these cases. And this week, a disgruntled subscriber in the San Francisco Bay Area who read the original AP story sued Comcast, asking for his money back and/or that Comcast stop resetting BitTorrent upload requests that traverse its network.
Will political pressure or legal precedent eventually force Internet service providers to take a completely hands-off approach to managing the data that rides on their networks? The question boils down to whether policy makers and legislators conclude the government should have the latitude of telling ISPs how to run their networks.
The Federal Trade Commission said in a June report that there’s increasing competition in the broadband sector, so regulators should tread lightly before enacting "net neutrality" rules. On the other hand, the FTC’s suggested this laissez-faire approach "in the absence of significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm."
To me, the practice of, say, dropping some of a subscriber’s eDonkey upload requests originating in Tel Aviv so that the network has bandwidth for other subscribers to check their e-mail or, y’know, visit Multichannel.com… does not constitute "consumer harm" that should lead to government action.
Maybe if I was a huge fan of, uh, eDonkey I would believe differently. Or maybe I would just switch providers.