Monday, November 19, 2007

Cox Degrades and Blocks P2P

Broadband Reports tells us that Cox has joined Comcast in chocking P2P traffic. (Readers and netizens will recall the uproar over Comcast's public relations nightmare—blocking the Bible by using your control of the network to lie to both sides of the exchange about the state of the other is considered uncool.)

Like Comcast, Cox is using its control of the network servers to forge the identity of users on both sides of P2P (bittorent, etc.) connections and tell both users that their partner has asked for a reset of the connection. The consequence is a dramatically slower connection or, once one side of the software "gives up," yielding a blocked connection. By forging false information about both ends of the communication Cox denies users the ability to exchange the data they choose.

Why? After all, people buy bandwidth in order to communicate. And Cox has plenty of tools that already control how much bandwidth you're allowed to drink. Cox, like the other cablecos, sells you a speed-throttled product (1.5 megs, 7 megs, etc.) and they have an unpublicized monthly usage cap. So you can only use so much at a time and you can only use so much per month. That should be enough. Why do they feel the urge to tell users what kinds of connections you can make within those limits?

Well...because 1) Greed: supplying bandwidth costs money they'd rather keep and 2) Lying (or more generously, its cousin "advertising). Even though they've set out limits those limits are pretty much fakes that are used to sell product rather than rationally inform consumers. They are counting on very, very few people ever really using the capacity that they sold them. If any substantial number of users really starts to use anything like their monthly allotment everyone's shared speed would drop like a rock. Cox just don't have the capacity to give consumers the speeds they've sold them. At the root of this sort of behavior is that Cox (and the other major telecomms) oversubscribe their bandwidth...sort of like "overbooking" the seats on a plane. Only Cox et al do a lot more of it than than any airline ever dared. (See a recent fine discussion post on gigom for a clear elaboration of the business and network dynamics involved.)

When P2P begins to entice users to come somewhat closer to using the speeds and capacities they've bought that overbooking is revealed: the network slows down and the advertising is revealed too obviously for what it is: a commitment they can't keep. It doesn't help Cox stay calm that P2P also looms as a threat to cable's core business. (We do know what most torrents are used for don't we? Video, legal and otherwise.) Instead of announcing rational speeds and caps that would reflect their actual network capacity Cox follows Comcast in surreptitiously blocking the upstart P2P network in ways that are fundamentally deceptive.

Notice please: exchanging data is exactly why customers buy an internet connection, the blocked technology is perfectly legal technology; the content presented for exchange is not Cox's responsibility; and internet users that never, ever signed a contract with Comcast are having their access blocked.

It's profoundly wrong on multiple levels and no amount of handwaving about ensuring quality of service can obscure it.

Here in Lafayette LUS users will avoid the worst of this because LUS won't sell you a product they can't supply. That's not the way that utility people think. It's not about marketing for them. Besides, they won't have any need for marketing deceptions. The sort of advertising that Cox is engaged in is intended to convince you that you are getting more than you actually are. LUS will have the bandwidth to give you exactly what you pay for. And LUS has been very direct in saying that they intend to do just that. I don't think many people have heard them; it sounds too obvious...but the engineers at LUS know that your local cable connection is horrifically oversubscribed and it hurts their engineer's sense of right order. They want you to know they won't do that. (This is similar to the no connection fees, no penalty-laden contracts promise LUS has made—not doing that marketing stuff is the utility way.)

Does that mean that LUS will never mess with P2P? I hope they won't. There is a lot of nervousness about uncontrolled usage among engineers and servers and P2P is at the center of that angst. I think such anxiety misplaced. But...My point is that LUS won't have to deceptively block services you want to use in order to keep up the facade that you've got plenty of speed. LUS will actually have plenty of bandwidth. And if you use a lot more bandwidth going out of our network (generating a cost we all share) than your fellows do there is no reason not to simply tell you that you are pushing costs onto your neighbors. And charge you for fairly for it if it gets too disproportionate.

Oddly enough I'm looking forward to having that sort of relationship with my net provider. A more honest approach would be a refreshing change.

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