Qwest: We Don’t Block Internet Traffic

At the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, I had the opportunity to meet Steve Davis, Qwest’s senior vice president of public policy. I asked Steve about the company’s policy with respect to the management of Internet traffic.

The issue has been in the news recently as Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, has come under fire from the Federal Communications Commission for secretly blocking the peer-to-peer file trading service BitTorrent.

“We are for everything that prohibits blocking of Internet traffic,” said Davis. “But we don’t support regulation of transport.”

I asked Davis if Qwest blocks or constricts any Internet applications as Comcast has done in the past. His response: “We don’t engage in the type of constriction that Comcast does.” (Since Comcast announced on Thursday that it will impose a monthly cap of 250 gigabytes on their customers, I didn’t have a chance to ask Davis about this new policy.)

Rather than blocking or constricting Web traffic, Davis said Qwest’s approach is to offer consumers several different flavors of bandwidth. Qwest, which serves about 13 million customers in 14 Western states, offers four different speeds at the moment, said Davis, including options for 1.5 megabytes (Qwest Connect Silver)), 7MB (Qwest Connect Platinum) , 12MB (Qwest Connect Titanium) and 20MB (Qwest Connect Quantum). Prices start at $46.99 per month.

The Denver-based phone company is able to offer beefier bandwidth because it recently began rolling out fiber optic cables in certain parts of its territory. Qwest is pursuing a strategy called “fiber-to-the-node,” which means it is laying cable from its central offices to nodes in various neighborhoods. That contrasts with Verizon’s more aggressive and expensive strategy of installing fiber optic cables directly into people’s homes.

Even so, Davis noted that offering consumers pay-what-you-drink options “doesn’t necessarily solve all problems” when it comes to U.S. broadband policy. “You could have back-haul problems too,” said Davis.

And it won’t help Americans living in rural areas who have no access to the Internet. To help solve that problem, Davis said Qwest is in favor of providing government subsidies for areas with no service to one low-cost provider that could wire the locale. “You wouldn’t subsidize competition,” said Davis.

My own take: Generally speaking, it’s better to have a solution come from the marketplace rather than government regulators. And while Om Malik and others have criticized the idea of tiered broadband, I believe some version of tiered pricing is the best solution to the bandwidth shortage.

Om makes a good point when he notes that cheap broadband has been a key factor in fueling the growth of the Internet. The broadband revolution has helped give birth to YouTube, MySpace and a host of other innovations that have energized the Web, creating new demand for Internet services.

And since Internet service has become a critical utility of our age, I agree that Internet providers should offer basic level service for a reasonable price. But let’s face it: Some people use more broadband than others and they should probably pay for it. I think it’s a very American idea: pay for what you use. And it’s economic 101.

That’s why competition should be a hallmark of our broadband policy–not government regulation of pricing. Competition will spur communications providers to offer higher and higher speeds at lower and lower prices. The battle between cable companies and phone companies has helped lower Internet service prices and raise entry-level speeds. But we need to find more ways to promote competition in future mediums, such as wireless broadband–especially since our appetite for bandwidth continues to grow with the rise of high definition video content.

What do you think?

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9 Responses to “Qwest: We Don’t Block Internet Traffic”

  1. Corrupt Says:

    Excuse me but, what bandwidth shortage? As far as I’m aware, there is plenty of unused fiber, and they have recently come up with ways to get more bandwidth out of existing fiber lines. I also read that bandwidth costs are going down every year, by substantial sums. So I ask, to what bandwidth shortage are you referring to?

  2. Spencer Ante Says:

    I agree that there are little to no bottlenecks in the Internet backbone. But the problem is in the so-called last mile, connecting Internet nodes to actual homes.

    Laying fiber optic lines directly into households, a la Verizon’s FiOS, will help reduce congestion. But there are still a lot of homes connected to the Net over slower copper phone lines. The cable industry uses fiber optic and coaxial cables but they need to upgrade their networks to get fully fiber optic, from what I’ve read and heard.

  3. Bob Dobbs Says:

    The headline is misleading. Although Qwest said they do not do the “type of constriction” that Comcast does, they do in fact block some web traffic.

    Access to the popular torrent tracker, thepiratebay.org is blocked on Qwest. The weird thing is they allow access to every other port on thepiratebay.org EXCEPT port 80, which is filtered by Qwest. This is actually much less clever than what Comcast was doing, since there are numerous other torrent trackers they don’t block. You can always get around this with a simple web proxy or an SSH tunnel to a free shell server.

    My read on this is that Qwest would love to block torrents more, but they don’t have the technical bench depth that Comcast has.

  4. Spencer Ante Says:

    Bob, thanks for your comment. And sorry for the late reply.

    I want to ask Qwest about your comments, which are very interesting. And I will post the company’s response.

    If you are correct, I will change the headline!!!

  5. Roy Says:

    I have also been experiencing traffic issues when using BitTorrent in the last month or so. Besides what Bob is seeing (blocked traffic to Piratebay tracker), I am also experiencing a reduction in download speeds when browsing. This is so even when I’m not downloading anything using BitTorrent – only seeding and uploading. And the upload bandwidth usage is also low.
    I have tried running speed tests, but I’ve felt for a long time that those tests are rigged by the ISP. They probably provide a faster pipe to the speed test servers (there are only so many) and keep the rest of the traffic shaped differently. Others, please comment.

    I’ve been with Qwest despite higher prices due to their integrity. They have shown exemplary fortitude in the NSA wiretapping betrayal. But if Qwest falls to the same depths as Comcast, Comcast is the cheaper evil!

  6. Update: Qwest Does Block Internet Traffic (In Rare Cases) « Creative Capital Says:

    [...] Qwest Does Block Internet Traffic (In Rare Cases) By Spencer Ante Last August, I reported that Qwest did not block or constrict Internet traffic. That was what I was told by Steve Davis, Qwest’s senior vice president of public [...]

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