All Talk, Little Action on 'Net Neutrality Front?

Experts claim ISPs such as Comcast can do more to find an immediate solution to bandwidth congestion and selective throttling.

 By Tim Scannell
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Are Internet service providers such as Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) doing enough to effectively manage bandwidth congestion and provide equal and uncontrolled access to all of its subscribers?

Not really, say experts, who claim it is much easier to engage in selective bandwidth throttling and other 'Net neutrality nasties than take a serious and perhaps expensive stab at a more permanent and less volatile fix.

"The Internet is supposed to work by routing back over the most appropriate link at any given moment, so it does its own load balancing," explains Craig Mathias, a networking analyst.

Solutions to alleged bandwidth problems offered by those in the know ranged from putting more time and money into building a better infrastructure to using better network management and detection technologies that could instantly sidestep any potential congestion.

Improved compression was another idea, although this is less effective on video than text files, one expert noted.

"Effective utilization of carrier bandwidth is the key," said Vibhash Trivedi, vice president of products for Avot Media, a provider of mobile video streaming services. The company developed an automated feedback system that constantly looks at bandwidth conditions and adjusts the video streams and frame rates to deliver the best user experience.

Bandwidth providers are always the first to complain about it but aren't doing much to solve the problem, he added.

Comcast claims it has at least taken the first step toward a workable solution by offering a collaborative olive branch to BitTorrent, a P2P file-sharing a company that filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) charging Comcast with singling out and blocking its application on the Internet.

These charges and others led to FCC hearings and an agreement from Comcast to investigate protocol agnostic solutions from BitTorrent and others that would replace application-specific bandwidth-blocking activities and instead focus on individual bandwidth-hogging cases.

Comcast declined comment on exactly where the discussions with BitTorrent might lead or which bandwidth management technology might be a front-runner. Too early to tell, said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, Comcast continues blocking or throttling back on P2P applications that congest the network and impact services, she noted.

The ISP giant is also reportedly considering additional fees for power downloaders who exceed established monthly limits on the amount of music, movies and other content transferred over its network.

One figure Comcast is toying with is 250 gigabytes per month, which roughly translates to 50 high-definition movies or more than 6,000 songs. Users would be charged $15 for every 10 gigabytes over this limit, according to reports.

Next page: Debate and discussions continue

This article was originally published on May 16, 2008
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