So what _is_ Comcast doing?

by on October 22, 2007 · 5 comments

Brad Stone of the New York Times has a good post on the Bits Blog regarding the Comcast kerfuffle (Jim, Why are we calling it that, again?). The gist:

It seems unlikely that Comcast has a secret agenda to shut down file-sharing applications and combat piracy on its network. But the company is clearly trying to have it both ways. It claims it is a neutral Internet service provider that treats all packets equally, not blocking or “shaping” its Internet traffic. Meanwhile it also positions itself as the champion of average Internet users whose speeds are being slowed by file-sharing.

The problem Comcast may now be facing is that in the absence of a plain explanation about what the company does to disadvantage certain applications in the name of managing traffic on its network, anecdotal reports and conspiracy theories fill the vacuum.

I have no doubt that Comcast’s practices stem from trying to provide a good, quality service for the majority of their customers. The problem their actions pose for those of us who advocate against unnecessary regulation, however, is that they’re not being completely clear about what they’re doing (although they’re trying).

For example, if the problem is one percent of users who tend to be bandwidth hogs, why not address the users instead of a protocol? AOL dial-up and T-Mobile wireless are able to meter customer use above a certain allotment without any negative privacy implications. It seems like Comcast does in fact target bandwidth hogs, although it doesn’t publish what the limit is. These sort of unknowns stir up the conspiracy theories Stone mentions. That makes explaining to folks that there’s nothing nefarious here pretty tough.

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