Comcast this week publicized plans to test new data network management techniques in three separate trials. Two of those tests, in Chambersburg, PA, and Warrenton, VA, began today (June 5).

"Back at the end of March with BitTorrent, we talked about moving to a protocol-agnostic network management technique by the end of the year," said Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas. "These tests are a key step to helping us get there."

Some discussion of these plans for Comcast to begin shifting away from a controversial approach that looks at specific applications and protocols took place during a related meeting last week.

Douglas confirmed that Comcast SVP Richard Woundy referred to these tests in a presentation at the Internet Engineering Task Force working group on data network management, which met in Boston at MIT on May 28. IETF working group A couple of attendees who spoke with Communications Technology said that the IETF meeting was promising, if inconclusive.

"A day was too short," said MSO engineer who attended.

That gathering of representatives from the vendor community, academic institutions and industry associations, and cable and other service providers will reconvene at the 72nd full IETF meeting to be held in Dublin, July 27 to Aug. 1.

"At this stage, it’s easier to be friendly," said a vendor who attended the IETF sessions, which he described as "more of an airing of the issues."

All except for some "academics and purists" agreed with the proposition that there was a problem with peer-to-peer traffic, said the operator. Both attendees agreed that there is no "silver bullet" that will handle all network management congestion scenarios in all situations, but that networks and applications could profit from better mutual awareness.

One proposal was a domain name server (DNS)-like root-server solution to providing network topology information to applications. The challenge is that it would "require all ISPs to behave nicely and report good data," said the operator.

In a situation of competition between ISPs and applications themselves, he wondered whether an "honor system" would prevail.

As for the 20-year-old transmission control protocol (TCP) itself, there is agreement on its limitations as a file transfer protocol, but changing it is "not realistic." Separate tracks, more suits Discussion between ISPs (including Comcast) and software developers over how to make P2P applications better aware of the network and hence more efficient is on a separate track from the 30-day network management tests that began today.

"These tests are different from the BitTorrent and Pando (Networks) tests," said Comcast spokesman Douglas. "Those will benefit all ISPs, not just Comcast."

Whichever combination of techniques chosen by Comcast and other MSOs (including metered usage, which Time Warner begins testing today in Beaumont, TX), the tension over network neutrality continues to grow.

The Federal Communications Commission this month is wrapping up an investigation on complaints that Comcast blocked certain file sharing applications, and today three law firms (Gilbert Randolph, SimmonsCooper and Hanly Conroy Bierstein Sheridan Fisher & Hays) announced that they have filed class action lawsuits in California, Illinois and New Jersey against Comcast in connection with high-speed Internet services.

– Jonathan Tombes Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at http://www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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