Most interesting about Sprint Nextel’s (S) new ‘Xohm’ high-speed WiMax service, going on sale today in Baltimore: The wireless Internet service’s terms give Sprint the option to slow down your Internet connection based on which software you’re using. From the company’s “acceptable use and network management” policy:
To ensure a high-quality experience for its entire subscriber base, XOHM may use various tools and techniques designed to limit the bandwidth available for certain bandwidth intensive applications or protocols, such as file sharing.
Translation: If we feel like choking BitTorrent, or Limewire, or Vonage, or Skype, or whatever, we’re allowed to.
The problem: Comcast — one of Sprint’s would-be investors, if their deal closes — just went through months of hell with the FCC for doing this exact thing with its cable Internet service: Interfering with its subscribers’ “certain bandwidth intensive applications or protocols.” Specifically, disrupting some of its subscribers’ BitTorrent transfers.
Why is that a problem? It theoretically violates the idea of “net neutrality,” meaning Internet traffic can’t be treated differently on based on its source or content. So thanks to pressure from the FCC, Comcast will stop doing that, and will manage its’ subscribers Internet speeds based on how much bandwidth they’re using, not what they’re doing with it.
But now it’s OK for Sprint to do this — but not Comcast?
One lousy argument Sprint might make: WiMax is wireless — theoretically, a scarcer resource than wired Internet. But Sprint’s WiMax is faster than many DSL connections, and you can bet AT&T (T) or Verizon (VZ) would get hell for pinching BitTorrent for its DSL subscribers the same way Comcast did for cable.
So there’s going to have to be a shakeout here sooner or later: And since net neutrality seems to be gaining support these days, we bet Sprint — and other high-speed wireless providers — will be pressured to change their terms, too.
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