Comcast “Traffic Shaping”?

by on October 22, 2007 · 0 comments

As Jerry wrote up briefly over the weekend, Comcast is alleged to have been “shaping” traffic over its network. Proponents of broadband regulation have already gotten a bit conclusory, even triumphal, expecting that this makes the case for public utility regulation of broadband service.

But I expect that we’ll soon learn more about the situation, and the conclusions to be drawn from it will be less obvious. There might be legitimate security reasons for what Comcast has done. We’ll see. We should expect full disclosure from Comcast.

My take: If Comcast is “shaping” traffic inconsistent with their terms of service, for non-network-security reasons such as copyright protection or surreptitious usage control, they shouldn’t be doing that.

More important is the meta-point: Independent testers found what they believe to be an impropriety in Comcast’s provision of broadband. They called it out, and interested parties among advocacy organizations and the media swarmed all over it. Comcast has to answer the charge, whether meritorious or not.

These are market processes working their will, and the outcome will be reached in short order – whether Comcast backs away from an improper practice, whether we learn that Comcast was not acting badly, or whether Comcast amends its terms to reflect what it thinks serves customers best.

This doesn’t conclude the discussion of whether there should be regulation. It allows us to refine the discussion: The proponents of regulation should now be challenged to write the regulation that would suss out this kind of (still alleged) misbehavior, distinguish it from appropriate network management, and ban it – without wrapping provision of Internet service in red tape or creating regulatory capture that suppresses competition. Good luck with that!

Obviously, more to come.

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