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Sprint Xohm Plans to Limit Bandwidth for Heavy Internet Usage

In Sprint Nextel's unveiling of its new Xohm WiMax service in Baltimore, it also revealed rules for using its service that one public interest group warns may prevent users from full and unfettered access to the Web.

At question is Sprint's Acceptable Use and Network Management Policy for its high-speed data network. In the usage policy statement, Sprint warns against usage that could "result in an excessive burden of system or network resources."

In those cases, "Xohm may use various tools and techniques designed to limit the bandwidth available for certain bandwidth intensive applications or protocols, such as file sharing," the company states.

Sound familiar? Didn't Comcast just get dinged by the Federal Communications Commission for deliberately slowing traffic of file-sharing application Bit Torrent?
Comcast is fighting that order in court and says now it won't target specific applications but will continue to manage its traffic.

Sprint's policy statement is pretty similar to those of other wireless carriers. But after the decision against Comcast last August and the evolution of wireless to more and more Internet services, Sprint's practice of managing its network traffic is coming under scrutiny.

Sprint said by managing traffic of heavy users, it helps the carrier provide better overall service for all its users.

But public interest group Free Press said Sprint's policy could go against the FCC's broadband policy statement which promotes open Internet access and prevents Internet service providers from intentionally slowing down service for use of certain applications - such as file-sharing applications. Moreover, Free Press wants to know exactly what kinds of tools and techniques it will use to monitor traffic.

"We are very troubled by this development and the larger moves across the wireless industry to limit consumer access to the legal content and services of their choice," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press. "We hope that Sprint will quickly disclose exactly what tools and techniques it plans to use and demonstrate why it is necessary to maintain a closed network when consumers demand an open Internet."

By Cecilia Kang  |  September 29, 2008; 5:57 PM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
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Love that line "such as file sharing"... Seems to have the implicit assumption that all file sharing is illegal, and all heavy bandwidth users are breaking the law, neither of which is true. Heavy users of Amazon's unbox service, Hulu, and other completely legal video services may well run into their limiting, too.

Posted by: Matt | September 29, 2008 8:00 PM

As long as it is fully disclosed to customers, what is the problem? Sprint should have the right to prevent a minority of users from degrading the service of the majority.

Posted by: Phil W | September 29, 2008 8:18 PM

"What is the Problem?" you ask? Well, for starters, Sprint is not using a resource that it actually owns, such as a privately installed and funded land network. Second, the resource that it is using, is: very valuable over-the-air bandwidth. That bandwidth was auctioned for lease (as an asset of the public) by the FCC, with the requirement of "full access for all of the public" with the intention of stimulating new technology and uses. Sprint's duty to the public is to provide something new, creative technology for the public with this bandwidth and if in that, they are forced to figure out how to provide it to ALL of the public, then they will meet the objectives of a public works project.

Posted by: Mike P | September 29, 2008 9:07 PM

To sell a high speed connection and then limit it's use is hypocritical. If you can't handle the traffic, then don't sell it.

Posted by: jayh | September 29, 2008 9:22 PM

Every ISP should be held to the same net neutrality standards. So that means that the same things just decided in the Comcast decision should apply to everyone else. That means equal access to the content of your choice, without looking at my application or slowing my applications down because it is disfavored by the ISP. That no longer works, and consumers won't allow it. This is especially true when the company has either received public subsidies or is leasing a public resource (airwaves). That may even call for a higher standard -- not a lower one!!

Posted by: barley | September 29, 2008 9:33 PM

Have you ever seen highways jammed during rush hour, when traffic grinds to a halt? The same thing will happen if Xohm is overloaded. From what I can gather, a typical WiMax cell will have total system capacity of 40 Mb. How many subscribers will be sharing that, do you suppose? Consider that a cable loop has a total capacity of 320 Mb (with the latest hardware), and DSL is nearly unlimited, since each loop is dedicated. Anyone who thinks that Xohm is going to replace a terrestrial connection needs to reconsider.

Posted by: tom | September 29, 2008 9:51 PM

I wrote of a criticism of the ISPs that are trying to regulate usage habits of their users. There are a lot of negative implications here.

Posted by: Chris Duncan | September 30, 2008 3:01 AM

Why should anyone be able to limit the 5%of hogs who are slowing the internet for the rest of us?Let them swill down the internet in great gulps and the rest of us will take what's left.That's what we're doing now.

Posted by: ron | September 30, 2008 5:52 AM

I'm a comcast customer, and this weekend I recieved mail from them saying there is a new AUP, that in part read:

"We appreciate your business and strive to provide you with the best online experience possible. One of the ways we do this is through our Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). The AUP outlines acceptable use of our service as well as steps we take to protect our customers from things that can negatively impact their experience online. ....... In the updated AUP, we clarify that monthly data (or bandwidth) usage of more than 250 Gigabytes (GB) is the specific threshold that defines excessive use of our service."

Posted by: Mike | September 30, 2008 7:57 AM

To everyone who has cited the use by Sprint of a public asset, I believe they paid for its use- it wasn't given to them free.

Building out Wimax hasn't been free either.

They need to earn their money back, or they won't build out the network.

What they don't want is to have their network burdened by a small minority of heavy internet users- whether legit or otherwise.

They should have 2 tiers of pricing based on usage.

Posted by: Keith | September 30, 2008 8:18 AM

Regarding a public use network because they lease the air waves, The backhaul, which will more than likely be the initial bottleneck, is a privately funded and built network where those limits may not apply. I would not expect to see them limit users based on the latest FCC rulings for "file sharing". This is something every lawyer is putting in all ISP ULAs after Comcast went a bit to far. Every wireless company (including Sprint CDMA service) and most ISPs already have this language in their ULAs and have for several years for all my providers. Time Warner was limiting P2P traffic for years simply by limiting to 40mbs between users rather than internet bound traffic.

ISP choices are pretty clear. They either have to "protect their network" with higher prices for the top users, or kick of the high end users with ULA wording like this. What will really tell the tale is if they decide to cap it at 5Gig a month or not like all other wireless carriers.

As a high end user I can not say I like either present solution, but I would rather have the choice to pay more and not get kicked off if I go over some hidden limit.

Posted by: Dan | September 30, 2008 2:52 PM

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