Cox to Begin Throttling FTP, P2P, and Usenet Next Month

Plans to test out new bandwidth-management system in their Kansas and Arkansas markets that will “momentarily” delay “non-time-sensitive” Internet applications.

Beginning next month, Cox Communications, this country’s third-largest ISP, has announced plans to test out a new bandwidth-management system in its Kansas and Arkansas markets that will categorize traffic into time-sensitive and non-time-sensitive traffic categories, throttling the latter in order to “provide customers the best possible Internet experience” for its subscribers.

“During the occasional times the network is congested, this new technology automatically ensures that all time-sensitive Internet traffic — such as Web pages, voice calls, streaming videos and gaming – moves without delay,” Cox said. “Less time-sensitive traffic, such as file uploads, P2P and Usenet newsgroups, may be delayed momentarily – but only when the local network is congested.”

Cox’s move comes after industry leader Comcast was reprimanded last year by the FCC for singling out P2P applications like BitTorrent during peak times of network congestion. Facing political and consumer pressure, Comcast has since moved to adopt a protocol-agnostic “Fair Share” approach, throttles heavy bandwidth users for a 15-minute period.

Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, a consumer-rights lobbying group, criticizes the plan:

The lesson we learned from the Comcast case is that we must be skeptical of any practice that comes between users and the Internet.

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.

As a general rule, we’re concerned about any cable or phone company picking winners and losers online. These kinds of practices cut against the fundamental neutrality of the open Internet. We urge the FCC to subject this practice to close scrutiny and call on Cox to provide its customers with more technical details about exactly what it’s doing.

Below is a break-down of the time-sensitivity of the various types of traffic that travel the Cox network. Any traffic that is not specifically classified will be treated as time-sensitive.

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)

Perhaps with President Obama having previously stated that he’s a proponent of network neutrality ISPs like will face renewed pressure from the FCC and his administration.

From Obama’s campaign pledges:

Protect the Openness of the Internet

A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history. It needs to stay that way. Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet. Users must be free to access content, to use applications, and to attach personal devices. They have a right to receive accurate and honest information about service plans. But these guarantees are not enough to prevent network providers from discriminating in ways that limit the freedom of expression on the Internet.

Let’s just hope Obama lives up to his promises.

As a Cox subscriber myself, I’m a bit leery of where this is all headed.

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