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US cable giant to throttle P2P

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Cox Communications - America's third-largest cableco - is on the verge of testing new network technology that will fast-track certain "time-sensitive" internet traffic during periods of congestion.

This also means that "less time-sensitive traffic" will be slow-tracked.

As it announced late last night with a post to its website, Cox plans to test this new technology next month on broadband customers in Kansas and Arkansas.

"During the occasional times the network is congested, this new technology 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," the post reads.

"Our goal is to ensure that customers continue to experience the consistently fast, reliable Internet service they’ve come to expect from Cox."

The company should be commended for at least alerting the world to its new plan. In addition to announcing February tests via the web, Cox says it will notify affected customers via email and snail mail.

But the particulars of the plan are unclear. And naturally, the net neuts want some answers. "My initial thoughts are caution and skepticism based on past history with cable companies in this respect," Ben Scott, policy director of net watchdog Free Press told The Reg. "But I'd like to withhold judgment until I know a little bit more, find out what they have in mind beyond the generalities, beyond what they have on their website."

When we contacted Cox, it would not provide addition detail. "At this point, we’re not talking about the details of the technology being used, as this trial is based on policies that are designed to create a more customer-friendly user experience, rather than a particular equipment platform," a company spokesman told us.

It's unclear how the cableco will measure congestion, and it's unclear how it will identify traffic for fast-tracking. "Are they looking inside the packet to see what kind of content it is? Or are application providers pre-applying to get on a list? Are you looking at the header? Is it a precise methodology?" Scott asks.

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