Cox Will Shape Its Broadband Traffic; Delay P2P & FTP Transfers

27 Comments

Cox Communications, the third-largest cable company and broadband service provider, is joining Comcast (s CMCSA) in traffic shaping and delaying traffic it thinks is not time-sensitive. They call it congestion management, making it seem like an innocuous practice, though in reality it is anything but. Chalk this up to yet yet another incumbent behaving badly!

To be fair, in the past Cox has made it pretty clear that it was going to play God with the traffic flowing through its pipes. Next month, it will start testing a new method of managing traffic on its network in Kansas and Arkansas. Cox, outlining the congestion management policy on its web site, notes:

“…automatically ensures that all time-sensitive Internet traffic — such as web pages, voice calls, streaming videos and gaming — moves without delay. Less time-sensitive traffic, such as file uploads, peer-to-peer and Usenet newsgroups, may be delayed momentarily — but only when the local network is congested.”

My views on all this network shaping are pretty clear, as outlined earlier when Comcast (s cmcsa) started to mess with P2P traffic. The FCC ruled against Comcast and eventually it was proven that Comcast was messing with even legal peer-to-peer file-sharing. The guys at Free Press, a Washington D.C.-based group, feel pretty strongly about Cox and its traffic-shaping tricks.

“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. Cox customers will certainly want to know more about how the company is interfering with their Internet traffic and what criteria it uses to discriminate.

Who is Cox to decide that a certain FTP transfer is not time sensitive, or that some software update is not time sensitive? More importantly, why should consumers trust cable companies, whose record of giving customers the short end of the stick is pretty well known? (What is time sensitive and what is not time sensitive, according to Cox, can be found below the fold.)

Unfortunately, as long as we have this comfortable duopoly in the broadband market, we the broadband consumers are going to have suffer from these kind of practices as we don’t have much of a choice. Hopefully a post-Kevin Martin FCC will be more citizen-friendly, and will act promptly against Cox and other traffic shapers.

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)
* Email
* 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)

From Cox.com notice about congestion management.

27 Comments

David Grayson

Since Cox started their traffic shaping policies, I can no longer access my sling player, windows updates, news groups, play online games, and other applications. These applications do not load properly. However the same computer on AT&T DSL works perfectly. On AT&T, the above mentioned applications work flawlessly.

rob friedman

* Tunneling & Remote Connectivity (VPN-type services for telecommuting)

More enlightened Cox subscribers will just tunnel all their traffic. Problem solved.

TCP/IP over carrier pigeon anyone?

Doug Mohney

Q dub, thank you!

Seriously, the ISP is doing something to try to get some crude QoS filtering done and if the download for Ubuntu or the warz or whatever you are legally download — like Microsoft’s Tuesday security updates — takes a minute or two rather than 45 seconds, WHY SHOULD IT MATTER?

VoIP, streaming, and videoconferencing should, in theory, get a boost from delaying file transfers and mass data moves.

And most of you guys want to call it a Bad Thing because instead you want ALL BITS to be treated equal, so your VoIp calls run crummy, your videos stutter and slow, just so you can gain 15 seconds on the Ubuntu distro. This is just sillyness. It’s knee jerk and thoughtless.

All bits ARE NOT EQUAL. Some are time sensitive and Cox has taken a (crude) step to recognize that… You go girl!

Q dub

Re-prioritizing is very different from throttling — throttling actually lowers the aggregate service level, where as re-prioritizing is merely shifting capacity amongst subscribers.

Sure, blanket rules on what is time-sensitive vs what isn’t is ugly, and there are always exceptions. But I’d contend that treating VOIP and FTP traffic as equals is flat out inefficient to begin with, and that adding general rule favoring VOIP over FTP is a huge step in the right direction.

Jesse Kopelman

@Nat

Yes, but the issue is how does one decide what is delay sensitive. Do we trust applications to label packets correctly? Is it as simple as saying UDP is higher priority than TCP? Does it come down to the ISP doing deep packet inspection and deciding based on what is in their own best interest what is high priority (clearly stuff they consider competition will not be)? That is what it sounds like Cox is going to do. Or does the ISP just have pay to play where they grant priority to services based on who is willing to pay for it (yet still charge the users for access)? A bunch of ISPs talked about doing this in 2006 and that is what sparked the whole Net Neutrality firestorm. Personally, I don’t like any of those options as they are all rife with possibilities for abuse. In the end, isn’t it just safest to treat all Internet traffic equally and use an end-to-end private network for what needs service guarantees? Don’t charge users for something you claim is Internet access and then subject it to a bunch of management techniques that are designed for private networks. If what your customers really want is a managed private network, sell them that. I think there would actually be plenty of takers for such a service, so there is no need to pretend you are selling one thing and then give your customers something else.

Nat

What Cox appears to be implementing is standard congestion management technique that uses different services classes on a scheduler to separate two types of traffic. This has been done for decades in all types of network (Frame Relay, ATM, Ethernet, IP etc). This has nothing to do with traffic shaping. As they clearly state in the FAQs (www.cox.com/policy/congestionmanagement), the non-delay sensitive traffic gets delayed only during congestion, which will be done naturally by the multi-class scheduler. When there is no congestion, none of the traffic is affected, which implies that they are not shaping the traffic.
Service providers are now investigating deterministically engineered networks to avoid congestion issues in the network all together. Until this technology is deployed, there are only two choices: degrade the experience of all services when there is short term congestion, or temporarily delay the traffic that can handle it without affecting the perceived quality. The choice seems simple.

Sam I Am

I agree with Kopelman as well. This is a sad development for all of us, but inevitable and frankly, unavoidable when privacy and privilege is wantonly abused to the degree established now by online piracy.

Thoughtful, evolved societies have long ago come to the conclusion that what goes on in the privacy of your own home–or internet connection–can sometimes justifiably be the proper business of that larger society–especially when the abuse of these rights have such far reaching impact on digital creators lives, industry, the basic human notions of simple fair play in the marketplace, sales and tax creation, the damage goes on and on and on.

I don’t like to see the fundamental principles of bandwidth throttling any more than anyone else does and Kopelman makes a crucial point.

But if piracy leads to bandwidth hogging by a minority and the eventual slowing of the online experience for the vast law-abiding majority, then place me on the side of the majority in this case. Pirates and bandwidth hogs (the 24/7 illegal DL crowd) couldn’t care less the damage they do, and are in this solely for themselves. Don’t be surprised when the loyal opposition fights fire with fire, then, and that’s where Mr. Fisk has this wrong.

Bandwidth will be continuously improved for streaming and voip and such, but the containment of illegal bandwidth use is a net improvement for the masses, at a cost. The negative aspects are regrettable, but unavoidable and the slippery slope has begun.

Nicely done, illegal downloaders.

http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=11893

Mark Schuknecht

I agree with Mr. Kopelman’s comments. When the cable company is deciding which services are the best for me, I am losing my freedom of choice. THAT is always wrong.

pj

The ‘software update’ traffic is a major concern. I use Cox’s security package and when it drops into it’s automatic update mode it’s a crapshoot as to how soon you’ll have full use of the machine. Circuit delays are a bummer!


pj

Jesse Kopelman

The real issue is not Netflix vs. Bittorrent. It’s what happens when Cableco decides that Netflix is competition with their VOD or that Vonage or Skype is competition for their phone service. If you are saying it’s ok for the ISP to decide what bits are more important than others what happens when they decide one service you are paying someone else for is not as important as a service of their own they want you to pay for?

Adam Fisk

The more these conversations continue, the more they remind me of the Civil War. Seriously. “All Bits are Created Equal” should be treated with more respect than it is. Otherwise, who decides what bits are good and what bits are bad? For you, Netflix and VoIP = good, BitTorrent == bad. For Ubuntu, HTTP and BitTorrent = good, RTSP and RTP == bad (for distributing their ISOs).

It’s the wrong layer to address the problem.

We’re slipping down the slope already.

-Adam

Doug Mohney

Net Neutrality doesn’t mean you should give up common sense.

Anyone stop to think this policy might be good for —

1) Streaming video
2) VoIP
3) Videoconferencing

Oh, wait, FTP and Usenet news (heaven forbid people slow down their Warez or p0rn fixes!) SHOULD be treated just like a VoIP call or a movie from Netflix? C’mon Om, you know that is WRONG in your heart-of-hearts, but you are being too knee-jerk on any sort of network management.

How do you propose to solve the problem and who do you propose to pay for the solution?

Adam Fisk

I wonder what you day job is, Mr. Sam, but it all depends on what you count as “P2P” traffic. Is IM p2p? Is VoIP p2p? Technically, of course they are. In your mind “p2p” means kids downloading The Dark Night, but you’re talking about one specific use case amidst a vast array of technologies falling under that umbrella.

Like it or not, you’re not going to successfully control this beast any time soon. 95% of music distributed online is not paid for — that means 1) There is, as you say, massive infringement, but also 2) Musicians are not connecting with their fans 95% of the time their music is distributed. In response, you could continue feeble attempts to lock down that traffic or you could attempt to connect with those users in more innovative ways, like tracking who the heck they are, advertising to them, etc.

Innovation on the Internet comes from a combination of small businesses, government, and yes industry. Much of the innovation happens from small companies that soon get big, though (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc) or from ad-hoc standardization processes that soon take hold (HTTP, HTML) — none of those came from government or established industry.

We’re clearly not going to agree on this topic, but I will say this is exciting:

http://www.measurementlab.net/measurement-lab-tools#glasnost

Sam I Am

Mr. Fisk, do I truly need to state the obvious that P2P’s many brilliant non-infringing uses constitute perhaps 5% of the traffic? And the other 95% is presently illegal and doing harm across the digital board? And that’s what’s clogging the network at the moment?

Do you also need to hear the obvious, that government and industry will either secure a safe and functioning platform for business and tax creation or they will hand us a police state while trying? And the loss of freedom and privacy will be laid right at the doorstep of piracy?

Or how about this? Do I truly need to state the obvious that “the best internet going forward” is ONLY going to be defined by the government and the industries–who not so incidentally are the ones who BRING it to us in the first place— as another realm of largely contained and legal behavior that offers the best achievable justice for all, and not just to a minority of small-minded and selfish users who see expanding infrastructure (at consumer expense) as the only solution? Frankly, I don’t want to PAY FOR increasing bandwidth that supports breaking the law, while millions–likely 10’s of millions of digital creators are being told to “sell T-shirts” because “if it is digital it is free”.

Rubbish.

Online infringement via P2P is THE TOPIC of the network at the moment whether you wish to acknowledge it or not. At no time in human history did an evenhanded culture just roll over to a selfish minority, and those who would appease this and set it aside for the “best technology” to the damage of digital artistry will be relegated as part of the problem, and no fair solution. If legal P2P suffers for this, Adam, turn your wrath on the kid who misbehaves and is keeping the entire class after school, and not the teacher themselves.

This is not news, Adam. Only boring people find current events boring. There is a long historical list of “best technology” steadfastly unavailable to the public for its repeated misuse. Get used to it. And these discussions grow more productive when you work with the whole picture and not just your tiny corner of it. I’ve written to both COX and COMCAST thanking them for speeding up service this way.

Khürt

All this bandwidth management discussion ignores the issue at the root of all of this: that the networks are over-subscribed. Comcast and Cox etc promised me and everyone else in my neighborhood unlimited Internet and then failed to deliver.

Adam Fisk

Thanks for staying on top of these developments, Om. It’s clear the service providers and getting organized both technologically and politically to move in this direction. The big question is how do we stop them? What organizations do we need, and who should be involved? We somehow need bigger guns.

@Sam I Am
Do I truly need to state the obvious that P2P has many non-infringing uses? VoIP is a quintessential P2P app. P2P in the limited realm you’re thinking of it is the most efficient means of distributing bits ever invented. The fact that you and others frame the debate only in terms of copyright rather than in terms of how we create the best Internet going forward is doing a disservice to humanity — and, no, that is not hyperbole. Please stop. Copyright law should be protected, but it currently consumes about 98% of the discussion surrounding P2P when it should consume about 5%. It’s not only less important that questions of how we create the best technology, it’s also just boring.

Sam I Am

This is not news, this is just a temporary means to slow copyright infringement until laws are in place to criminalize what is currently a civil infraction. When illegal P2P is finally throttled under control and content creators are once again compensated for their work, the network will be blazing fast and all this will quietly go away. Without illegal activity, the network is extremely fast, so thanks online pirates. You are trading our speed, our privacy and our freedoms on the network for a harddrive full of pilfered entertainment. Piracy will be remembered as the abuse of privacy that changed the network forever.

Chris

I’m actually surprised to see a serious complaint about Cox’s policy, as represented in the article. If there is contention between my VoIP packet and your FTP packet, you will not notice if my VoIP packet goes first. Interactive applications will notice congestion before non-interactive apps. This seems far less problematic than Comcast’s former policy of strangling PTP by sending forged reset packets.

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