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Lessig leads Net Neut charge in Stanford inquisition

Tripping the light Comcastic

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Comcast also says that it only manages P2P traffic during periods of network congestion. But Robb Topolski - the independent researcher who first noticed Comcast's throttling - told Martin and his fellow commissioners that the ISP throttles round-the-clock.

"I've done testing at all hours of the day," he said. "One or two days before the [FCC's February hearing], at 1:45 in morning, my packets were being blocked on 75 per cent of the connections - 75 per cent of the connections that were established were being torn down by reset packets.

"I can't imagine 1:45 in the morning being a time of internet congestion. Using ping, I was able to establish that in my neighborhood anyway, the time of congestion tends to be weekdays between 3:30 and 7 when the kids come home from school."

Like the other big-name broadband ISPs, Comcast declined an invitation to attend the FCC's Stanford hearing. But George Ou - an independent consultant and former network engineer who has discussed the controversy in the pages of his now defunct ZDNet blog - was on hand to defend the company.

Like Lessig, Ou attempted to define the controversy in terms of net neutrality. Of course, he came at things from the other side, arguing that P2P file sharers put an undo strain on the network and thus have no right to complain about someone throttling their traffic. "The P2P bandwidth hogs yell 'discrimination' and persuade activists to portray them as victims of evil corporations who are being deprived of their civil rights," he said.

"If anyone dares to throttle their overconsumption in any way, activist groups demand trillion-dollar FCC fines and immediate enjoinments before the facts are even in. But there's nothing neutral or fair about what these groups are asking for and they're not the protectors of consumer rights they portray themselves to be."

But again, this misses the larger issue. If Comcast's network management practices are reasonable, why didn't it disclose them from the start? Better yet, why won't it disclose them now?

Later in the hearing, the debate turned to Comcast's advertised upload and download speed, with some complaining that these speeds are well above what users actually experience. Then George Ou pointed out that Comcast advertises peak numbers not minimum numbers.

"It's a misconception that when an internet provider advertises 3Mbps, you're guaranteed 3Mbps," he said.

"Then why don't they advertise the average number?" asked Lessig.

Yes, the Stanford crowd cheered even louder. But this drew a positive response from Ou as well. "I'm all for transparency," he said.

So, is that everyone? Or, at least, everyone but Comcast? ®

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