Cox experiments with an 'anti-throttling' alternative

While throttling is still being treated by some Internet users as an implicit form of discrimination, the nation's ISPs must find both a technologically and politically correct method of managing their traffic congestion problems.

The US' second largest ISP, by many estimates, remains the nation's second greatest blocker of Internet traffic believed to be related to BitTorrent protocol. This according to the most recent test data released yesterday by the Max Planck Institute.

But Cox Communications this morning says it's trying an alternate approach to managing the growing problem of Internet network congestion, in tests being conducted among broadband customers throughout Kansas and Arkansas. Prompted by an FCC investigation into throttling techniques by the nation's largest ISP Comcast -- also the US' greatest throttler of traffic, historically, according to Planck researchers -- Cox will be implementing a prioritization technique that will rush certain traffic according to type, rather than penalize other types.

This technique, states Cox spokesperson David Grabert in a statement to the Associated Press, reflects "the time-sensitive nature of the Internet traffic itself."

As Cox' Web site is informing its customers, the experimental technique "automatically ensures that all time-sensitive Internet traffic -- such as Web pages, voice calls, streaming videos and gaming -- moves without delay. Less time-sensitive traffic, such as file uploads, peer-to-peer, and Usenet newsgroups, may be delayed momentarily -- but only when the local network is congested."

This morning, the policy director of public advocacy group Free Press expressed skepticism about Cox' methodology.

"The lesson we learned from the Comcast case is that we must be skeptical of any practice that comes between users and the Internet," wrote the group's Ben Scott. "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."

The Planck group's numbers indicate that, while throttling among all ISPs including Cox and Comcast has been on a decline since last April and has plummeted since August -- when the FCC started taking notice -- on occasion, Cox has blocked up to 40% of BitTorrent traffic. However, it may not have been blocking any such traffic using throttling methods since the beginning of this year.

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