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Comcast reveals it is protocol agnostic

Throttling the user, not the application

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As part of its response to an August order from the FCC, Comcast has unveiled a new "protocol-agnostic" method for managing heavy traffic on its cable-based network.

Currently, the big-name ISP blocks uploads from BitTorrent and other P2P apps when they exceed certain thresholds. But with the new method - to be rolled out by the end of the year - Comcast will target the traffic of individual users.

"The new approach will focus on managing the traffic of those individuals who are using the most bandwidth at times when network congestion threatens to subscribers' broadband experience and who are contributing disproportionately to such congestion at those points in time," reads a detailed filing with the FCC.

New software will monitor traffic on each segment of Comcast's network, the company says, and if a segment's upstream or downstream usage exceeds certain thresholds, traffic from subscribers using particularly large amounts of bandwidth will be "assigned a lower priority status." This means their bits will be temporarily delayed.

A subscriber's traffic "returns to normal priority status once his or her bandwidth usage drops below a set threshold over a particular time interval."

Comcast tested the method in five US cities over the summer, and the company says that not a single customer complained about it. According to the company, less than one per cent of customers are affected by the throttling.

"We manage our network for one reason: to deliver a superior, reliable, high-quality experience to every high-speed Internet customer, every time they use our service," says a company spokeswoman. " This new technique will ensure that all customers get their fair share of bandwidth every hour of the day. As we roll out these new practices, we'll make sure our customers are fully informed."

Robb Topolski - the independent network researcher who first discovered that the ISP was blocking BitTorrent uploads, sparking an FCC investigation - commends Comcast for providing such a detailed description of its new throttling method. But he still has questions. "Their own test results show that so few people who be impacted by this and they say that those that are impacted are only slightly impacted," he told The Reg. "I've got to wonder why do it at all?"

Comcast has also installed a 250GB a month bandwidth cap for each subscriber. Previously, the company reserved the right to terminate users when they reached an unspecified monthly bandwidth threshold. Users who exceed the 250GB cap twice in six months may have their account terminated for a year. ®

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