Peer-to-peer file sharing just got a lot more expensive in the US. The FCC has ordered Comcast to refrain from capping P2P traffic, endorsing a volume-based pricing scheme that would “charge the most aggressive users overage fees” instead. BitTorrent, Inc. reacted to the ruling by laying-off 15 per cent of its workforce, while network neutrality buffs declared victory and phone companies quietly celebrated. Former FCC Chairman Bill Kennard says the legal basis of the order is “murky.”
Comcast will probably challenge on grounds that Congress never actually told the regulator to micro-manage the Internet. In the absence of authority to regulate Internet access, the Commission has never had a need to develop rules to distinguish sound from unsound management practice. The order twists itself into a pretzel in a Kafka-esque attempt to justify sanctions in the absence of such rules.
Technically speaking, they’re very confused
The FCC’s technical analysis is puzzling, to say the least.
The order describes an all-powerful IP envelope, seeking to evoke an emotional response to Deep Packet Inspection. The order claims the DPI bugaboo places ISPs on the same moral plane as authoritarian regimes that force under-aged athletes into involuntary servitude. But this is both uninformed and misleading. Network packets actually contain several “envelopes”, one for each protocol layer, nested inside one another like Russian dolls. Network management systems examine all envelopes that are relevant, and always have, because thereâ€™s great utility in identifying protocols.
The FCC’s order is especially bad for people who use both P2P and Skype. The comments lack the usual snarkiness, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
UPDATE: Right on cue, a price war is breaking out between cable and phone companies, according to the Wall St. Journal. I wonder if the converts are going to be the high-volume users worried about the caps, or the nice, low volume grannies every carrier wants.