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
•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.
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?"
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."