Comcast’s Traffic Management Practices

There is an interesting article on ARS Technica about Comcast’s FCC filing regarding its practices of secretly filtering network traffic. For those of you not up on the latest news, the FCC has been investigating Comcast’s network management practices after Vuze objected to Comcast’s practices of degrading P2P connections.

The article gives a really nice explanation of what is actually going on. It’s also some good reading for people who don’t know how Comcast actually structures its network (ie. what your neighbors are doing makes a big difference on your network speed).

The basic problem here is that Comcast oversells its network on the premise that nobody will use all of it. When a few customers actually attempt to use all of the bandwidth, the whole thing chokes. So instead of actually upgrading its network, Comcast filters out the traffic using lots of bandwidth (read P2P traffic).

While overselling is nothing new, what Comcast does strikes me detrimental to everyone. The main problem is that when the internet became popular, networks were designed for mostly downloading content. Most people were consumers, a few were providers. Todays internet, is different. P2P networks are more prevalent. YouTube is huge. The dynamic has shifted. More people are now providers, and more importantly, this trend will continue. Eventually, internet providers will have to restructure their networks to account for this change. Filtering content is only a stopgap.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea that Comcast should limit the amount of bandwidth that individuals can use. But if this is to be the rule, there needs to be a lot more transparency in the matter. Consumers need to be informed of what is the bandwidth cap for each service plan is. There also needs to be an easily accessible method for consumers to track their bandwidth usage. Most importantly, Comcast should notify consumers when they are filtering their packets, instead of just sending TCP reset packets.

If consumers have the actual information to make informed decisions, the market will decide whether or not this strategy is okay. This is of course, assuming that consumers do actually have alternative providers and that the ISP market is actually a fair market. Yeah right. Score one for corporate welfare.

Update: Upon further consideration, I’d like to clarify my point about it being okay for Comcast (or anyone) to filter internet content. What I actually meant, was that I think it is okay for an ISP to filter or lessen high-volume traffic from individual sources, provided that there is sufficient transparency in the matter. ISP’s certainly need to start selling what they can actually provide, but they also should be able to keep some users from adversely affecting others.

I do not under any circumstances support the filtering of traffic based on content. This is not the job or role that ISPs should be in the business of playing.

Netflix Watch Instantly

I finally got around to trying out Netflix’s (no longer) new Watch Instantly feature. It’s a pretty cool setup considering I’ve already had Netflix for several years. With my current plan of three DVDs at a time for $16.99 a month, I get an unlimited number of hours of Watch Instantly movies. That’s a pretty sweet deal.

The only problem…It’s Windows only. Even worse, It’s IE only. That has pretty much been a deal breaker for me so far. I have a PC at home, but I don’t ever want to sit at my desk to watch a movie. My laptop is a MacBook Pro. I do have Boot Camp, but the whole rebooting thing has kind of turned me off in the past.

Earlier this week I installed VMware Fusion, which works with my previously installed Boot Camp Windows partition. I finally decided to try out the Netflix Watch Instantly. After spending about 15 minutes jumping through an unbelievable number on installations, run anyway dialogues, yes I really do want to do that thing I just told you to do, one restart, and one unexpected Internet Explorer error later, I was up and running.

I have to say, it looks really good. The interface is very nice (very Mac-lke actually) and the quality is excellent. I was able to put the show into fullscreen and it still looked good. One concern that I do have though is that I’m actually at work running this over their ridiculously fast internet connection. So, good quality with no buffering issues isn’t saying much. I’ll have to reserve further judgement to see how it works on the wireless connection to my DSL modem I have at home.

One niggling criticism I have is over this somewhat disconcerting dialogue:

Netflix Watch Instantly Dialogue

The dialogue shows up at the beginning of every single movie or show you watch. Considering I’m using an entirely legal and paid for service, I kind of resent being presented with a dialogue box that starts with the sentence “You do not have the rights to play this file.”

Changes 1.0

Changes is a new file modification application. Looks to be really nice. It’s Leopard only, so I’m going to have to wait until I upgrade to try it out.

I’ve been looking for a good application like this ever since I found my self writing a diff-based app in Automator to check for differences between my iTunes libraries. This one looks like it will do that and a lot more. It also integrates with my favorite text editor, TextMate. For the old school folks, it works with BBEdit as well.

Microsoft Offers $44.6B for Yahoo

Wow. From the Associated Press:

Microsoft Corp. has pounced on slumping Internet icon Yahoo Inc. with an unsolicited takeover offer of $44.6 billion in its boldest bid yet to challenge Google Inc.’s dominance of the lucrative online search and advertising markets.

That’s nuts. I don’t use Yahoo, but I’m already seeing it infiltrated by little rainbowy butterflies spreading craplets.

Via Daring Fireball.

Update: The more I think about this, the bigger it is. I was just thinking about Yahoo search mostly. What’s going to happen with Flickr if this goes through? YUI? I can’t imagine Microsoft not screwing these things up. I’m not trying to bash Microsoft, they just don’t have a very good track record. Hotmail anyone? Gruber has some more articulate thoughts (as usual).

NetNewsWire Now Free

NewsGator, the company that owns NetNewsWire, has just announced that it will now be offering all of its products for free. This is great news for the world of feed readers. NetNewsWire is a fantastic reader that I’ve been using for several years. They have a shiny new version too. I’ve heard that FeedDemon is a good Windows client, although I haven’t used it myself.

Get the new and improved free download of NetNewsWire here.



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