Comcast to change the way it manages Internet traffic

Comcast, the country’s largest residential Internet provider, says that instead of interfering with specific online applications it will manage traffic by slowing the Internet speeds of its most bandwidth-hogging users when traffic is busiest.

The Philadelphia-based cable company, under intense pressure from consumer groups for blocking the Internet traffic of customers who use peer-to-peer BitTorrent software, has been the subject of recent FCC scrutiny on the issue.

In effect, Comcast said it would change its fundamental approach to playing Internet traffic cop. “In the event of congestion, the half percent of people who are over utilizing an excessive amount of capacity will be slowed down subtly until capacity is restored,” the chief technology officer for Comcast, Tony G. Werner, told the “New York Times.” “For the other 99.5 percent, their performance will be maintained exactly as they expect it.”

Werner said he hoped to have the new system in place by the end of the year. The change was part of a recent announcement by Comcast that it had been working with BitTorrent on ways to optimize the company’s applications for the Comcast network. Comcast will publish its findings to Web forums and standards groups so that other software makers, peer-to-peer services and ISPs can adopt them.

Comcast’s practices were subjected scrutiny at a contentious commission hearing in Cambridge, MA, last month. After Comcast paid people to fill seats at the Cambridge hearing, another hearing was scheduled at Stanford in Palo Alto, CA, for next month.

Though Comcast called for an end to the federal oversight, the announcement will not end FCC scrutiny. FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin vowed to continue the investigation and expressed concern that the old filtering practice would continue at least through the end of the year.

Marvin Ammori, general counsel at Free Press, one of the public interest groups that petitioned the FCC, urged the commission to continue pursuing the matter. “The only reason Comcast came to the table and made a deal with BitTorrent is because of the unrelenting pressure,” he noted.

Many proponents of the network neutrality principle, which would require ISPs to treat all Internet packets equally, have expressed a preference against any sort of filtering and urged Comcast and its rivals to instead invest in adding bandwidth. Comcast rejected that notion.

In a separate announcement, Comcast it would roll out a higher-speed Internet service in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market. The speedier service is based on the cable industry’s Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 3.0 standard for data delivery.

The Comcast service will offer up to 50Mb/s download speeds and 5Mb/s upload for no price increase. Comcast said it will provide up to 100Mb/s within two years and 160Mb/s in the future. Currently, Comcast’s fastest download speed is 16Mb/s.

Comcast said expects to offer the service in 20 percent of its markets by the end of the year and to all of the country by 2010.