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Comcast, the Internet and Restrictions
It's finally happening. The FCC is looking into restrictive practices by ISPs. The Associated Press reports in a New York Times article dated January 9, 2008, that the FCC will investigate customer complaints that Comcast interferes with the Internet traffic carried on their network. The AP first reported last October 19 that BitTorrent file sharing traffic was hindered. It is about time that the meaning of "net neutrality" gets some teeth. This is the first time the FCC is going to really look at what "net neutrality" really means and if and when some "net neutrality" enforcement is warranted. Comcast is not the only ISP that should be investigated. I wrote a blog, "Have Read Your ISP Terms of Service Lately?, posted at VOIPLoop on October 10, 2007. I want the ATT Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) investigated as well.
It's finally happening. The FCC is looking into restrictive practices by ISPs. The Associated Press reports in a New York Times article dated January 9, 2008, that the FCC will investigate customer complaints that Comcast interferes with the Internet traffic carried on their network. The AP first reported last October 19 that BitTorrent file sharing traffic was hindered.
It is about time that the meaning of "net neutrality" gets some teeth. This is the first time the FCC is going to really look at what "net neutrality" really means and if and when some "net neutrality" enforcement is warranted. Comcast is not the only ISP that should be investigated. I wrote a blog, "Have Read Your ISP Terms of Service Lately?, posted at VOIPLoop on October 10, 2007. I want the ATT Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) investigated as well.The AT&T AUP states," Bandwidth, disk utilization, simultaneous connections, and aggregate data downloads/uploads will be computed or determined by AT&T from time to time in developing its product and service offerings." This means they will change over time and probably not in favor of the customer.
It goes on: "In the event AT&T determines that an account is exceeding the relevant bandwidth, disk utilization, aggregate data download/upload limits, simultaneous connections, or reasonable session times [GA: think of the extended session times for UC services like voice/video/web conferencing], the account owner will generally be notified by E-mail. If the excess use continues after such notification, the owner may be requested to upgrade the type of account or to modify the activity creating the excess use, or the account may be terminated." Sounds like a push for higher revenue.
Finally: "If excessive bandwidth, disk space utilization, simultaneous connections, aggregate data download or upload, or session length is determined to adversely affect AT&T's ability to provide service, immediate action may be taken. The account owner may be notified by e-mail as soon as practical thereafter."
So far I have not exceeded their AUP, nor do I expect to until I sign up with NetFlix online for movies. Then I am concerned about the AUP restrictions. The mobile industry provides quantified traffic limits. European ISPs define capacity limits measured in gigabytes per month. So should AT&T.
Comcast has done more than interfere with traffic; they have canceled customers that exceed the Comcast traffic rules. Comcast however does not define the traffic limits. See my VOIPLoop blog, "Big Downloaders Get Axed; You Don't Get What You Paid For", posted on September 14, 2007. This is second subject that should be investigated.
When does an ISP decide that the customer uses too much bandwidth for too long? That question has now become relevant. The September 7, 2007 issue of the Washington Post had a front page headline, "Shutting Down Big Downloaders: Comcast Cuts Internet Service to Bandwidth Hogs." What's a bandwidth hog? How do I know I am a hog? When did the ISP say, "I will carry your traffic only if you meet my planned average customer usage?" I always thought it was an unlimited usage service.
The Washington Post article focused on the growing traffic of on line music, videos and games. Does this mean if I download too many movies, Comcast will block my access because they did not plan for this volume of traffic? I expect my traffic volume to grow, not stabilize at my present rate.
My concern here is not the entertainment traffic but the impending growth of Unified Communications (UC) traffic with expanded use of voice, video and web conferencing and the potential of reaching enterprise employees and customers with these newer media. The mobile and teleworkers could be severely limited in their UC usage. Will the growth of UC suffer because Comcast is not ready?
I am still not finished. Going back to the AT&T AUP, they, AT&T, can censor my writings and cancel my ISP service if I say anything that offends them. My third blog, "What Can the ISP Say about What I Say?" posted at VOIPLoop October 16, 2007, covers this aspect. I want the FCC to determine that if I do not commit libel, then AT&T has no jurisdiction over my comments.
Section 5.1 of the AT&T Terms of Service present the rules for Suspension and Termination of service. I have edited out the portions that are not of concern: "In addition, AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries."
Read item (c) again. Does this mean AT&T will be reading my content for this infraction? What if someone sends an e-mail or document to me that AT&T does not like, will it be blocked? If I write about AT&T and use a different ISP (I subscribe to two ISPs), will my AT&T service be terminated? If AT&T does filter out content it does not like, will there be a lot of false positives, deletions that are not harmful, thereby blocking acceptable traffic? This could become a content delivery nightmare.
I hope that the Comcast investigation opens up the inqiry into all the practices and policies of every ISP in the US. We need ISPs that don't act like they own the world and sucbscibers/customers have no rights. I think there is a strong parallel between the unrestricted use of the wire telephone network and "net neutrality" Even the wireless networks are coming under fire for their attempted restriction on their traffic, especially text messaging. It is time the customer came first. Not the provider.