The FCC was clear in a recent ruling regarding network management; operators may not block specific applications in the name of fair usage and alleviating network congestion. The agency held that Comcast was engaging in "discriminatory" practices by interfering with peer-to-peer (P2P) applications such as BitTorrent. The ruling stemmed from lawsuits reported here and here.)

So how are broadband providers to protect their networks and provide the best possible service for the greatest number? The answer is to manage users rather than applications.

"What Comcast was doing was targeting a very specific application … and attempting to block the application whether or not there was congestion," said Cam Cullen, Allot director of product management, Americas. "You shouldn’t go after subscribers unless there is congestion on the network, but if there is, you should manage it on a per-user basis."

"You have to be application and source agnostic," said Randy Fuller, vice president business development, Camiant. "You can’t pick on one particular thing a user is doing …. An operator has to be clear about what its terms of service are and what their network management practices are so that users can understand it."
Options Both Allot and Camiant offer network management tools. Allot’s solution is based on deep packet inspection (DPI). A DPI box sits behind the access layer, matches subscribers to traffic, and associates a service package.

"In addition to managing data from an individual user, (a service provider) can offer priority for different applications on a per user basis," Cullen said. "A user who is not going to use a lot of (bandwidth) will pay less … rather than two (households) paying the same amount for a vastly different service."

Camiant’s Fair Use Management application leverages its multimedia policy engine, which uses PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM) technology to communicate with the CMTS. Operators can configure rules defining when a user’s service should temporarily be tweaked. This could mean, for example, during certain times of the day or if certain parts of the network are congested.

"It is a way of dynamically managing an individual user’s bandwidth temporarily depending upon essentially whatever terms the operator wants to have (in accordance) with what their terms of service are," Fuller said.

Comcast is appealing the FCC’s decision in federal court, but has worked to comply with the FCC’s requirements, which the company has said "codify the voluntary commitments we have already announced," regarding a transition to "protocol-agnostic" network congestion management practices.

Comcast has said that its new plan includes Camiant’s PCMM application server, Sandvine’s Congestion Management Fairshare Server (as reported here), and an Internet Protocol Detailed Record (IPDR) server. Comcast expects to complete transition to its new network management practices by the end of the year.

– Monta Monaco Hernon

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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