Comcast is under fire again, this time for spoofing network packets to stop its users from uploading using peer-to-peer software. The technology Comcast employs to manage its network is imprecise and legitimate applications like LotusNotes have been caught in the cross-hairs. Net neutrality supporters are in a feeding frenzy because now they can point to a specific instance of an ISP discriminating against a protocol.
The method Comcast uses to curtail P2P traffic has been widely criticized. But it has only been a few weeks since rumors surfaced about Comcast resetting connections and the Associated Press has already reported on the controversy, even conducting tests to verify Comcast’s throttling. Now, Comcast is subject to negative press and has been forced to backpedal its stance. This illustrates how market pressures are far more responsive than regulators in punishing unpopular business practices.
Comcast owns its network and has the right to manage it to ensure peer to peer traffic does not impact users. Most Internet providers use packet shaping to prioritize traffic, and forcing Comcast to treat Bittorrent traffic the same as latency-sensitive data like VOIP makes no sense. DOCSIS 3.0, a new standard for cable Internet Comcast has invested heavily in, allows far greater bandwidth and will ease network congestion when it’s deployed in 2008. Until then, limiting file sharing (which is a disproportionate share of traffic) is a sensible solution.
The problem with broadband in America is the absence of choices. Thanks to burdensome FCC regulations and rent-seeking local officials, lots of people (including myself) have no choice but cable Internet — DSL, satellite, and fixed wireless are not options. If Americans could choose among competing broadband providers, the traffic shaping issue would be irrelevant, and customers dissatisfied with Comcast’s policies could simply switch to another provider.
Net neutrality is a step in the wrong direction. Shortsighted policymakers created this dilemma in the first place by granting monopoly rights to cable companies. More regulation will only stifle innovation and reduce investment. The way to solve America’s broadband woes is to lift regulations and abolish franchise agreements which have prevented competition and restricted consumer choice.