Comcast and BitTorrent this morning jointly announced
that by the end of this year, Comcast will migrate "to a capacity management technique that is protocol agnostic." In other words, it appears that after months of public outcry, bad press, hearings and an FCC investigation -- Comcast is ready to abandon its practice of forging TCP packets to throttle upstream P2P traffic on its network. Or are they?
"This means that we will have to rapidly reconfigure our network management systems," says Comcast CTO Tony Werner, "but the outcome will be a traffic management technique that is more appropriate for today's emerging Internet trends." By "more appropriate," we assume he means doesn't involve packet forgery and a wholesale assault on one particular protocol. We'll have to wait and see.
"We have been discussing this migration and its effects with leaders in the Internet community for the last several months, and we will refine, adjust, and publish the technique based upon feedback and initial trial results," says Werner. We're sure that Broadband Reports users like Robb Topolski
, who was the first to identify Comcast's practice of packet forgery in our forums last May, will be keeping a watchful eye.
As the EFF noted
last November, there were less draconian forms of traffic management that Comcast could have embraced, but the company immediately opted for a solution that slowed P2P traffic for all users, regardless of consumption. While the press release is vague, Comcast will now focus only on throttling the connections of high consumption users. The company already terminates the service of users who consume more than an unspecified monthly amount of bandwidth.
Originally, Comcast compounded their problems with months of denials, half truths, and semantics when dealing with the press and public concerning their traffic shaping practices. If the FCC takes action against Comcast, it will likely be for a lack of transparency, not for the method of traffic management used. In other words, they'll still likely be hit with an FCC fine, and could face more problems if new network management practices aren't adequately disclosed.
The outcome will be a traffic management technique that is more appropriate for today's emerging Internet trends.
-Comcast CTO Tony Werner
In addition to a new traffic management system that's protocol agnostic, the company reminded users they'll be deploying DOCSIS 3.0 to 20% of their footprint by the end of the year -- and broke the news they'll be offering an upstream bandwidth boost ahead of those deployments.
"We plan to more than double the upstream capacity of our residential Internet service in several key markets by year end 2008," says Werner. "We plan to take
advantage of multi-carrier technology to further increase upstream capacity for all of our broadband customers in advance of the full DOCSIS 3.0 roll out," he says.
So in short, Comcast is claiming they'll start using more reasonable traffic management practices and will increase capacity, something many critics and customers have been asking for throughout the debate. What's left to be seen is whether the company makes these new changes and consumption limits transparent to users who are shopping for a broadband connection, or if they continue to treat network management like national security.
Given Comcast's less than forthcoming history on this front, the proof will need to be in the pudding. While nobody expects a cable network to be free of some degree of traffic shaping, Comcast needs to show they're being both reasonable and
transparent before anyone dubs this a "victory". We likely won't have more detail until we have a chance to sniff around the reconfigured network later this year.