Comcast & DPI: In control or out of control?

The FCC is expected to announce a decision at the end of this week regarding Comcast’s traffic management practices, according to The Wall Street Journal. Using DPI, otherwise known as deep packet inspection, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, has been accused of blocking file-sharing traffic on its network. During a hearing last Monday, several witnesses also expressed concern about how some broadband providers are using DPI techniques in an overly intruding manner, such as monitoring and tracking the Internet use of subscribers to deliver targeted advertising.

DPI has generally been considered a valuable technology to network
operators because it allows them to examine each packet of data
crossing the network and monitor or redirect traffic more
effectively.  In a recent article in Telephony Online, Editor-in-Chief
Carol Wilson examines the various benefits of DPI
and the role it plays in security and network management.  Some
positive uses of DPI include parental Internet controls, improved
video services, corporate network protection, optimized bandwidth on
mobile networks, etc. DPI has generally helped operators manage their
networks by helping prevent inappropriate use and also by prioritizing
traffic to improve services and overall user experience.

So what went wrong here? The concern for a lack of bandwidth has been
the ever-growing problem that’s contributed to this Comcast issue. It raises important questions, such as whether or not Internet
providers should be able to interfere with online traffic to help
manage networks?  Were Comcast’s network management practices
reasonable in this case?

Comcast claimed that subscribers who swap large files on peer-to-peer
networks are using a “disproportionate amount of bandwidth.” Comcast
denies blocking access to Web sites or online applications entirely,
but claims delays were necessary to effectively manage the network
during times of peaked congestion.

How will this case affect future outlooks and perceptions of DPI? If
companies spend billions of dollars on their networks, should they be
free to manage traffic in ways like Comcast did here? What other
implications will the lack of bandwidth issue have on ISPs and
subscribers? It will be interesting to see how the FCC’s ruling
this week will impact the Internet industry and relevant technologies.
It’s a rather controversial topic, if you ask me, and the issue brings
about provocative questions for debate.