- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2008

Cox Communications Inc. hampers peer-to-peer file-sharing by some of its users, according to a new study singling out the Fairfax County Internet provider along with Comcast Corp., which is already being investigated by federal media regulators over similar reports.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Saarbruecken, Germany, tested the Internet connections of 8,175 users worldwide and said the two U.S. firms appear to block the transfer of BitTorrent files in a majority of instances. Comcast blocked 491 of 788 subscribers taking part in the study, compared with 82 of 151 for Cox.

No law now mandates “Net neutrality” — equal treatment for all types of Internet traffic, whether it’s a peer-to-peer file, an e-mail or a Web site — although a bill has been introduced in Congress. Proponents are sure to seize on the findings as evidence that a legislative remedy is needed.

The Federal Communications Commission is already investigating Comcast, the country’s second-largest Internet service provider (ISP), for a possible violation of the agency’s policy statement against barring consumers’ access to applications of their choice.

Philadelphia-based Comcast offers access in the District and surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. Cox, based in Atlanta, serves customers in Fairfax County as well as Fredericksburg.

Both Cox and Comcast say they manage their networks to ensure that bandwidth-heavy users don’t slow down the experience for everyone else.

“Cox’s network management practices ensure that bandwidth-intensive applications don’t negatively impact our customers’ Internet service,” spokesman David Deliman said. “Cox allows the use of file-sharing and peer-to-peer services for uploads and downloads, and we allow access to all legal content, but we must manage the traffic impact of peer-to-peer services, as most ISPs do for the benefit of the customer.”

Likewise, Comcast said it does not block access to BitTorrent or other similar services.

“We have acknowledged that we manage peer-to-peer traffic in a limited manner to minimize network congestion,” spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said, affirming the company’s announcement in March that it would change its network management practices by the end of the year to isolate users — not applications — that tend to use lots of bandwidth.

The Max Planck Institute study said both companies blocked access at all hours of the day. The study identified only one other ISP for blocking files, StarHub of Singapore.

The study used a Web-based tool called Glasnost to trace the flow of BitTorrent files between a participating subscriber’s computer and the Institute’s test servers. Tests were conducted between March 18 and May 15.

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