Comcast sure is bearing the brunt of the anger being levied against broadband providers these days. Earlier this year it was hauled before the FCC over allegations that it was blocking peer-to-peer traffic. During the subsequent hearing the FCC made clear that it, too, was unimpressed with Comcast’s so-called network management efforts because it felt that customers were not adequately informed about them. Further, as the agency acknowledged, “managing” P2P traffic could result in competitive video content being blocked. However, unlike other ISPs, who have admitted to blocking P2P, Comcast denies it.
And still does. I chatted with Comcast CTO Tony Werner on Friday and got a copy of the company’s most recent FCC filing, submitted yesterday, and in both cases Comcast maintains that it does not intentionally block P2P traffic and that 90 percent of P2P upload traffic isn’t managed at all. And by the end of this year, as Om has detailed, Comcast plans to shift the way it manages its network to slow down those using unreasonable amounts of bandwidth.
While the traffic management issue appears to be what’s drawing the ire of the FCC (and a meeting to decide on an enforcement order on Aug. 1), FreePress has also knocked the cable provider for upgrading modems rather than the cable company’s core network. Werner begged to differ, saying modem upgrades were for speed and that Comcast upgrades its network for capacity on a regular basis. As he explained it, once an area node that serves a group of customers reaches a roughly 70 percent saturation point (measured by traffic at the node staying at about 70 percent of the capacity for one hour a day for five consecutive days), that node is split to make the service area smaller. Werner estimates Comcast splits about 10 percent of its nodes each year as part of regular network upgrades.
Comcast is changing the settings on some of its modems to offer services such as its PowerBoost product, designed to offer bursts of speed at the beginning of the download. This will boost load times of web sites and sending emails, which requires delivering a concentrated group of bit and bytes, but will do little for streaming video, voice calls or other services that require a continual stream of data. Splitting nodes, and upgrades to the underlying cable, increase capacity while products such as PowerBoost handle speed increases.
Comcast is making a concerted effort to refute the P2P blocking allegations and detail its network management practices. Perhaps when it reports its latest quarterly results on July 30, we’ll see if this attention is a result of increased churn or declining subscriber numbers (although last quarter that certainly wasn’t the case).