Comcast throttles at midnight

Equal rights for all data

In the USA there is a heated argument about net neutrality. The question is whether providers are allowed to throttle the data flow of certain Internet services. After a court decision, the Congress will soon deal with the equal transport of data.

There is no fast lane on the information superhighway. All data packets are transported from A to B at the same speed - regardless of who they are sent by, who receives them and what their content is. That is the principle of net neutrality. And proponents see this principle of equality in jeopardy after a court decision last week. In Washington, an appeals court has ruled that the regulatory authority Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the right to discipline the US provider Comcast because it has throttled the Internet connection of some customers.

This is the end of a long-term dispute between the FCC and Comcast for the time being, but not the discussion about the pros and cons of net neutrality. In its statement, the FCC then also emphasized that the court "has in no way spoken out against the importance of a free and open Internet and the door has not been closed to other methods to achieve this important goal". It can be assumed that the FCC is now launching an initiative in the US Congress to legally anchor net neutrality.

Violations in Europe too

Two years ago, Comcast secretly slowed down the flow of data from customers using the Bittorrent file-sharing service. Comcast justified this step by stating that large data such as films are often illegally moved via file sharing networks via Bittorrent. That makes the whole network slower, and ultimately other customers would suffer as a result. Comcast voluntarily lifted this data throttling after customer complaints, but the FCC subsequently issued a serious complaint to the provider. The FCC had no right to do so - the appeals court has now ruled.

Net neutrality is also being undermined in Europe. In the Netherlands, Cablecom throttled the data transport of file sharing users between twelve o'clock and midnight for months last year. After protests, traffic was increased back to the speed that customers had paid for. And in Germany, T-Mobile temporarily blocked the use of Skype as a mobile phone application on its mobile network in the spring of 2009. The company justified the decision with the overload of the network.

Comcast's approach illustrates the problem a provider faces. Video portals such as Youtube and social networks such as Facebook are causing the amount of data to swell. In order to manage the transport, the Internet provider has to continuously expand its network capacity. However, if he were to throttle some data streams at peak times, he could use his network more economically. It would be conceivable to put certain dates aside and to give preference to others. For example, video streams could be put in the fast lane, while e-mails remain in the slow lane. To do this, the provider needs to know what is in the data packets. This is achieved with Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology. It allows data streams to be "examined" in real time.

However, critics argue that it is not up to the provider to decide for customers which priorities they want to set for their data traffic. The organization “Save The Internet”, an association of companies, NGOs and bloggers, fears that this will open the door for Internet providers to “determine which websites are loaded quickly or slowly and which are not opened at all, according to their own interests can". This would also make it possible to slow down the websites of the competition or to give preference to Internet services that pay more. According to "Save The Internet", this could lead to smaller web services falling by the wayside, as only large companies could afford fast data transport.

But also the big internet companies Google, Yahoo !, Microsoft, Ebay and Amazon stand united behind the net neutrality. They fear that after loosening the principle of equality, Internet providers could pass the costs of data transport on to those who caused it. This would mean that, for example, the Google subsidiary Youtube would be asked to pay for the fact that it would load the power lines with data-intensive videos. This is exactly what René Obermann, the head of Deutsche Telekom, suggests. “We cannot offer everything for free, those who use the network have to pay,” he said recently in an interview with “Manager Magazin”.

An Obama's political project

In the USA, however, Comcast has assured that the company will not change its strategy again despite the positive court decision and will remain committed to the principles of the FCC for an open Internet. However, it cannot be assumed that the FCC will be satisfied with this. It is more likely, however, that the FCC will strive to redefine the legal position of Internet providers and broadband connections. In doing so, however, it is likely to meet with stiff resistance from the Republicans, who want to leave it to the Internet providers to determine which services they want to offer at which prices. A tailwind can be expected from the Democrats. Net neutrality is one of Barack Obama's declared political projects.

There is additional support from the "fathers of the Internet" Vinton Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee, whose technical developments have significantly advanced the establishment of the Internet. Berners-Lee writes in a statement: “A neutral communication medium is essential for our society and the basis for a fair market economy, for democracy and science. That is why we should protect the neutrality of the network. "