Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Intranets and the Cloud: The Lack of Functional Difference Between Comcast’s Xbox and Regular Broadband Traffic

             Those clever folks at Comcast want us to believe that there is a functional difference between routing Netflix traffic to an Xbox 360 terminal versus conventional Internet routing via a cable modem.  See http://blog.comcast.com/2012/03/xfinity-on-demand-on-xbox-and-your-xfinity-internet-service.html.  Comcast states that routing to the Xbox 360 “will not travel over the public Internet and is delivered in much the same way as we deliver your video service to your set top box.”  Besides the company notes that only the worst of the worst bandwidth hogs would ever exceed the company’s generous 250 Gigabyte download monthly quota.

             As a threshold matter the company wants to differentiate the Internet and the Internet cloud from individual networks.  But of course we understand cloud computing and the Internet as requiring seamless connectivity between and among disparate but interconnected networks.  If we focus on the first of possibly many links from Netflix downstream to subscribers’ Xbox 360 terminals, are we to infer that Comcast owns to leases every possible segment in the complete link from content source to content end users?  If the answer is yes, does that mean that Netflix’s primary Content Distribution Network, Level 3 never handles Xbox 360 terminal traffic?

            While Comcast has a robust and broadly distributed network I seriously doubt that the company exclusively uses its own network assets to secure the complete routing of Netflix traffic to Xbox users.  Nondisclosure agreements block any transparency in understanding how carriers route traffic, but I cannot believe Comcast would give up the opportunity to continue charging Level 3 a surcharge for Netflix traffic and would gladly free Level 3 and other carriers of the long haul carriage burden.  In other words I suspect Comcast receives Netflix traffic in the same way—via Level 3 mostly—for both Netflix traffic destined for a cable modem and end user computer and Netflix traffic destined for an Xbox 360.  If anyone know this to be incorrect, please set me straight.

            I assume that the only difference in routing occurs in the so called last mile routing from the point where Comcast receives Netflix traffic.  This last link hardly qualifies for the broadsweeping pronouncement by Comcast that Xbox360 traffic is the functional equivalent of cable television content.

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