Comcast confirms new network management practices

Comcast, the second largest broadband provider in the U.S., has stopped network-management practices that focus on slowing the BitTorrent peer-to-peer application, the company said.

Comcast confirmed Tuesday that it has ended its old network management practices, as required by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The FCC in August ruled that Comcast's throttling of P-to-P (peer-to-peer) traffic violated the agency's network neutrality rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or slowing Internet traffic or applications.

Comcast has appealed the FCC decision, saying the agency didn't have authority to enforce a net-neutrality policy statement, but last March, Comcast announced it would move away from application-specific network management. News reports in late 2007 unveiled Comcast's practice of slowing some BitTorrent traffic, and Comcast's practices caused an uproar among net-neutrality advocates.

Comcast later said it was slowing traffic only at times of peak congestion, but the FCC and other groups disputed that the traffic management was limited.

The new techniques shouldn't come as a surprise, said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman. "This just confirms what we said we would do back in ... March, that we would transition to a protocol agnostic technique by year end," she said.

Since the FCC's August decision, Comcast has instituted a 250GB monthly bandwidth cap on customers. The separate, new network management policy also allow the broadband providers to slow traffic to high-bandwidth users during time of peak network congestion, Comcast said.

Comcast "will identify which customer accounts are using the greatest amounts of bandwidth and their Internet traffic will be temporarily managed until the period of congestion passes," the company said on its network management Web page. "Customers will still be able to do anything they want to online, and many activities will be unaffected, but they could experience things like: longer times to download or upload files, surfing the Web may seem somewhat slower, or playing games online may seem somewhat sluggish."

The new technique will not manage congestion based on what applications high-bandwidth subscribers are using, Comcast said. "Rather it only focuses on the heaviest users in real time, so the periods of congestion could be very fleeting and sporadic," the company said.

Public Knowledge, a consumer rights group that protested Comcast's earlier network management efforts, applauded the company's decision to change techniques. "We're pleased with the development and hope Comcast will respect the concept of the open Internet," said Art Brodsky, Public Knowledge's communications director.

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