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Comcast Strikes Deal with Vonage
July 9, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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In a perfect world, the Internet would be a boundless space without limitations on bandwidth. But that world doesn't exist, at least not yet, and Comcast has been in the driver's seat of a rather treacherous road of bandwidth management. Throttle speeds too much, and customers will bolt. Conversely, do nothing and the potential exists to unravel the entire network. Surely, there's happy medium where the network only unravels during certain parts of the day, right?

As BitTorrent users discovered months ago, their upload speeds were "delayed" by Comcast's bandwidth management techniques. If this happened, say 6 years ago, few would have paid it much mind. The press and community attention given to this particular situation has demonstrated, however, the extent file-sharing has grown. What probably would have been considered a technological footnote has instead erupted into the banner bearer for the network neutrality debate.

In an effort to sooth the rattlings for outright war with ISPs, Comcast admitted to "delaying" traffic - but only after its revelation from TorrentFreak and the Associated Press. This prompted an evolution of their bandwidth management practice, transforming it into a soon-to-arrive "Protocol Agnostic" policy. The new policy is scheduled to roll out towards the end of the year. The goal of the policy is to manage bandwidth without looking at one specific protocol. Rather, each individual, regardless of what network or application used, would be managed if their bandwidth consumption traveled outside the norm.

To the delight and speculation of many, Comcast and BitTorrent reached an agreement in March of this year to establish a reasonable framework in which to operate. This was the genesis of the new bandwidth policy, however BitTorrent users still claim to be affected by the old management. Time will tell if the "Protocol Agnostic" policy pacifies the disgruntled BitTorrent populace.

Competitors are also vying for a piece of Comcast's agnosticism. In an announcement made today, Vonage, one of the largest VoIP (Voice over IP) providers in the United States, has reached an agreement with Comcast. As addressed by PC Magazine, Vonage probably has a more vested interest in ensuring network compatibility than BitTorrent does. The last thing Vonage needs is a customer dialing an emergency service only to be disconnected halfway through because of excessive bandwidth. Vonage brought the issue before the FCC in February of this year.

Although the details of the arrangement are sketchy on the press release, in essence, the two companies got together and established how the two networks can still function yet give customers the services they want. It's rather unclear how that's accomplished, or how an emergency service call will take priority over some guy video-chatting with his girlfriend. Neither the Comcast or Vonage press releases address this, and with the "Protocol Agnostic" policy still several months away, it remains to be seen how, or if, it will work.

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Technology News :: Organizations/Initiatives

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