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Exploring Cox's New Network Management System
Somewhat vague new plan filters traffic by Cox definition of 'time sensitive'
by Karl Bode 11:32AM Wednesday Jan 28 2009 Tipped by JPP See Profile
Starting February 9 in parts of Kansas and Arkansas, Cox has announced that the cable company will begin implementing a new network management system. The new system, according to the Cox network management FAQ, will prioritize what Cox defines as "time sensitive traffic" during periods of heavy congestion. The system is similar to Comcast's recently announced system, except that Cox will apparently be targeting certain protocols. Unlike Comcast, Cox so far isn't getting into specifics concerning what level of network congestion triggers the system. They're only letting us know what types of traffic they believe need slowing:

...we hope this trial results in an even smoother Internet experience with fewer delays
-Cox, ironically speaking about their new plan to delay some Internet traffic
Time Sensitive

•Web (Web surfing, including web-based email and chat embedded in web pages)
•VoIP (Voice over IP, telephone calls made over the Internet)
•IM (Instant messages, including related voice and webcam traffic)
•Streaming (Web-based audio and video programs)
•Games (Online interactive games)
•Tunneling & Remote Connectivity (VPN-type services for telecommuting)
•Other (Any service not categorized into another area)

Non-Time Sensitive

•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)

"These classifications are a result of our network engineering expertise and our customers' expectations," says Cox. "Our engineers reviewed the traffic on our network, analyzed the requirements of various services and reviewed available research from third-party organizations," the company says. The last we checked, customers "expected" all broadband traffic to be speedy and responsive, regardless of the protocol in use. The use of "customer expectation" to determine what gets preferred treatment seems a little pseudo-scientific.

Cox seems to stick to fairly traditional explanations of what technologies require time sensitive transfers, their researchers apparently not giving much thought to new hybrid technologies, like CNN's use of the Octoshape's P2P plugin to power their video streaming service many of you used to view the Obama inauguration. Cox's inclusion of categories like "software updates" are a nod to the fact that their deep packet inspection technology won't be able to differentiate between legal or illegal use of P2P. They're de-prioritizing entire protocols as a result.

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The new system of course comes just before a new FCC boss takes control of the FCC, and shortly after Comcast was "sanctioned" by the FCC for not being clear about their own network management practices. As we reported in late 2007, Cox was engaging in the exact same type of packet forgery that gave Comcast such a bad reputation in the national media. Cox somehow flew under the media radar -- in part because they at least admitted they were throttling some traffic.

Cox appears to have stopped using the old TCP RST packet forgery system sometime late last year, right around the time Comcast was getting their wrist slapped by the FCC. While avoiding run-ins with the FCC was certainly a goal, the move is also part of Cox's cooperation with the entertainment industry to crack down on piracy. Cox is one of the few ISPs we've confirmed is participating in the RIAA's new plan to have ISPs terminate the accounts of users who repeatedly transfer copyrighted material.

So far, the technical specifics of the plan are lacking. The "time sensitive" definitions seem somewhat arbitrary, and the level of congestion required to trigger the system isn't made clear. The specific speed or latency impact this will have won't be obvious until we can test residential user connections. The move to throttle specific protocols also comes before Cox has made any serious announcement about DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades, which (justly or not), gives the impression the carrier is taking the cheap way out when it comes to capacity.

What gives Cox the right to decide for itself that it's going to change the way that the 'net ought to work?

Why does Cox get to choose what network applications are likely to succeed and which ought to fail?"

-Robb Topolski
Consumer advocates certainly aren't impressed. "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," says consumer advocacy firm Free Press in a statement. "As a general rule, we're concerned about any cable or phone company picking winners and losers online."

Robb Topolski, the network engineer who first discovered both Comcast and Cox's original throttling efforts, isn't particularly impressed with Cox's plan, either. "What gives Cox the right to decide for itself that it's going to change the way that the 'net ought to work?" he asks. "Why does Cox get to choose what network applications are likely to succeed and which ought to fail?"

According to Topolski, Cox should have to adhere to conventional Internet standards -- reviewed and debated by the broader Internet community. "If I invent a new network technology, and I follow the Internet Standards in doing so, I ought not have to go from ISP to ISP and test to figure out whether or not their particular network will discriminate against my new application," he says. "That's why we have Internet Standards and why it's important that key stakeholders like Cox participate in the process -- not ignore it."

184 comments .. click to read

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Waterbury, CT

2 recommendations

reply to hottboiinnc4

Re: What Gives Cox the right to decide???

I think that not only did Robb bring this on himself because of the precedents that have been set..he's actually responsible for Comcasts caps now being LESS than they were before. It was my observation from observing many a post in the comcast forum that there wasn't a single person who ever ran into a problem with Comcast about bandwidth until they hit the 300 to even 400 gig range.

Once pushed into a corner and forced to put caps on went down to the current 250gig level. It also started the ball rolling for TW's caps to be announced..AT&T's..and everyone elses. And now..this issue with Cox as well can be attributed to that as well IMHO.

The old adage is very true.. be careful what you wish for..because you just might get it. And then some.

As for what gives Cox the right to do what they are..I also concur that because it's their and their shareholders money..they have the right to do WHATEVER they want and consumers..have the right to not take it.
We all make those choices all day long with all kinds of products we buy. In this day and age many of us have choices among not only cable providers..but various forms of dsl as well. And people also have the option of MOVING and deciding where the want to live if they aren't happy with what is offered in their current location.

Again..I have to refer back to my other post in this thread and say that people are simply expecting too much I think from these dollar + per day services. People have the option of having their own T1's or T3's or whatever where they can have as much bandwidth as they want. PROVIDED they're willing to pay the price. To expect these companies to give someone unlimited restrictions access to these speeds and unlimited caps 24/7 is just totally unrealistic for these kinds of prices.
The Coyote captured the RR! Roadrunner Rick is now Comcastic!


Cleveland, OH

1 edit

3 recommendations

Hey ROB! It's their network! Not yours! That's what gives them to the right. The same as you get to decide at home what programs you give on your network get QOS they get to decide as well. Don't like it, don't use them. Be glad they're giving VoIP time sensitive.

And as always; if you're not happy with something; build your own and compete.

Waterbury, CT

2 recommendations

I think that

Robb Topolski should just run on out and buy himself a 5,000.00 a month internet connection that does everything he wants it to do and stop expecting so much from a 42.95 a month residential one instead.

These ISP's like Comcast, COX..Time Warner give an AMAZING amount of access, speeds..and service for very little money compared to what it would cost someone if they were buying it individually. The ONE and ONLY reason it costs what it does is because everyone else is subsidizing the kind of outrageous usage that people like this are expecting..but not paying their fair share for.

The solution to their unhappiness is VERY simple.
Just call AT&T or level 3 or whomever..and order up their own backbone to their bedroom...and cough up the money to satisfy all their worldly bandwidth desires and pay the thousands of dollars per month it would take to do so.

Until then, assuming their budget is only 40 a month instead..they should be happy with all that they get which is so much..for the one dollar and change a day they pay for it.
The Coyote captured the RR! Roadrunner Rick is now Comcastic!