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Comcast Accused of Congestion By Choice 434

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i'm-completely-shocked dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A kind soul known as Backdoor Santa has posted graphs purportedly showing traffic through TATA, one of Comcast's transit providers. The graphs of throughput for a day and month, respectively, show that Comcast chooses to run congested links rather than buy more capacity. Keeping their links full may ensure that content providers must pay to colocate within Comcast's network. The graphs also show a traffic ratio far from 1:1, which has implications for the validity of its arguments with Level (3) last month."
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Comcast Accused of Congestion By Choice

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @09:58AM (#34545432)

    Ever wonder what Comcast's connections to the Internet look like? In the tradition of WikiLeaks, someone stumbled upon these graphs of their TATA links. For reference, TATA is the only other IP transit provider to Comcast after Level (3). Comcast is a customer of TATA and pays them to provide them with access to the Internet.

    1 day graphs:

    Image #1: http://img149.imageshack.us/img149/78/ntoday.gif [imageshack.us]
    Image #1 (Alternate Site): http://www.glowfoto.com/viewimage.php?img=13-224638L&rand=6673&t=gif&m=12&y=2010&srv=img4 [glowfoto.com]

    Image #2: http://img707.imageshack.us/img707/749/sqnday.gif [imageshack.us]

    Image #2 (Alternate Site): http://www.glowfoto.com/static_image/13-205526L/4331/gif/12/2010/img6/glowfoto [glowfoto.com]

    Notice how those graphs flat-line at the top? That's because they're completely full for most of the day. If you were a Comcast customer attempting to stream Netflix via this connection, the movie would be completely unwatchable. This is how Comcast operates: They intentionally run their IP transit links so full that Content Providers have no other choice but to pay them (Comcast) for access. If you don't pay Comcast, your bits wont make it to their destination. Though they wont openly say that to anyone, the content providers who attempt to push bits towards their customers know it. Comcast customers however have no idea that they're being held hostage in order to extort money from content.

    Another thing to notice is the ratio of inbound versus outbound. Since Comcast is primarily a broadband access network provider, they're going to have millions of eyeballs (users) downloading content. Comcast claims that a good network maintains a 1:1 with them, but that's simply not possible unless you had Comcast and another broadband access network talking to each other. In the attached graphs you can see the ratio is more along the lines of 5:1, which Comcast was complaining about with Level (3). The reality is that the ratio argument is bogus. Broadband access networks are naturally pull-heavy and it's being used as an excuse to call foul of Level (3) and other content heavy networks. But this shoulnd't surprise anyone, the ratio argument has been used for over a decade by many of the large telephone companies as an excuse to deny peering requests. Guess where most of Comcasts senior network executive people came from? Sprint and AT&T. Welcome to the new monopoly of the 21st century.

    If you think the above graph is just a bad day or maybe a one off? Let us look at a 30 day graph...

    Image #3: http://img823.imageshack.us/img823/8917/ntomonth.gif [imageshack.us]
    Image #3 (Alternate Site): http://www.glowfoto.com/static_image/13-205958L/4767/gif/12/2010/img6/glowfoto [glowfoto.com]

    Comcast needs to be truthful with its customers, regulators and the public in general. The Level (3) incident only highlights the fact that Comcast is pinching content and backbone providers to force them to pay for uncongested access to Comcast customers. Otherwise, there's no way to send traffic to Comcast customers via the other paths on the Internet without hitting congested links.

    Remember that this is not TATA's fault, Comcast is a CUSTOMER of TATA. TATA cannot force Comcast to upgrade its links, Comcast elects to simply not purchase enough capacity and lets them run full. When Comcast demanded that Level (3) pay them, the only choice Level (3) had was to give in or have its traffic (such as Netflix) routed via the congested TATA links. If Level (3) didn't agree to pay, that means Netflix and large portions of the Internet

    • by GooberToo (74388)

      Seems to me that if this is all true, there is certainly grounds for a class action suite here. After all, with them knowingly maxing their pipes, its impossible for them to ever argue good faith efforts of any kind. Its kind of like trying to deliver water past a sieve and arguing I'm working my best to deliver water. Its just not possible.

      • Seems to me that if this is all true, there is certainly grounds for a class action suite here.

        And what would be the point of class action? Comcast will eventually settle for "undisclosed sum" with out "admitting wrong doing," Lawyers walk away with millions while the rest of Comcast customers gets a 5 dollar coupon off the next month.

    • by wings (27310)

      Comcast claims that a good network maintains a 1:1 with them, but that's simply not possible unless you had Comcast and another broadband access network talking to each other. In the attached graphs you can see the ratio is more along the lines of 5:1, which Comcast was complaining about with Level (3). The reality is that the ratio argument is bogus. Broadband access networks are naturally pull-heavy and it's being used as an excuse to call foul of Level (3) and other content heavy networks. But this shoul

    • by sirdude (578412) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @11:29AM (#34546484)
      FYI, TATA [wikipedia.org] is an Indian conglomerate which has fingers in many pies: ISP, Telecom, Software (TCS), Steel, Chemicals, Power, Motors (trucks & cars; also own Jaguar and Landrover; makers of the Nano), Tea, consumer electronics, pharmaceuticals, clothing, watches, salt, jewellery, DTH TV - I can just keep going on an on. It's ridiculous how much one single company can control :S Tata, the telecom carrier company, was previously named Teleglobe and was bought in 2005.
    • Comcast claims that a good network maintains a 1:1 with them, but that's simply not possible unless you had Comcast and another broadband access network talking to each other. In the attached graphs you can see the ratio is more along the lines of 5:1, which Comcast was complaining about with Level (3). The reality is that the ratio argument is bogus.

      Comcast claims that free peering arrangements should have close to 1:1 ratio. And if you don't maintain that ratio, then you should pay for transit, just like Comcast is doing with TATA. So this is entirely consistent with what Comcast is saying and if anything supports their argument, not undercut it like Backdoor Santa is claiming. His argument about saturating transit to force other to peer with Comcast is valid though.

      I personally think it is garbage to apply Tier-1 peering standards to (what should be)

  • I, for one... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @09:58AM (#34545436) Journal
    Am utterly shocked that anybody could be so cruel as to suspect a poor innocent cable company of trying to protect their cash-cow video delivery business by deliberately sucking at being an ISP(harder than they do simply by nature, that is) and using their oligopolistic incumbent position to shake down nimbler and more responsive competitors.
    • Re:I, for one... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:40AM (#34545856)
      Look, comcast is a private company that exists to make money. Because they're a private company, the government doesn't regulate the quality of their product. This is because it's assumed that the free market will take over. The assumption is that people will switch to other providers and thus stop buying comcast service. In a market in which there's actually competition, this works quite well.

      The problem is that comcast has a monopoly (or duopoly) with regard to internet service pretty much everywhere comcast offers service. Thus, there's no free market to drive prices down and quality up.

      The only solution in these situations is government regulation. Either subsidize new providers, cap prices, mandate minimum quality of service, etc. Comcast argues that they don't need regulation because they're doing just fine and that they're serving the public good. These graphs show that this is clearly not the case.
      • Re:I, for one... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:53AM (#34546054) Journal
        There is another potential solution that bears experimenting with, given the dangers of regulatory capture, which makes regulated monopolies a potentially unstable position over time:

        Treat last-mile connectivity as a utility-style natural monopoly(which it essentially is, economically speaking). Have the municipality build out either fiber, or tubes for running fiber, to a peering point accessible under RAND conditions. Their responsibility would be to ensure that the pipe between you and the peering point is maintained(ie. this isn't a 'gummint internet'). At this point, anybody who wished to do so could set up shop at the peering point and offer services over the pipe, whether they be straight internet access, IP TV, VOIP, whatever.

        Once you get beyond the last-mile, there is a much stronger case to be made that competition is both possible and actual; but the last mile is an oligopoly at best, monopoly at worst, and(like water, power, and roads) tends toward being a natural monopoly in the economic sense...
        • Re:I, for one... (Score:5, Informative)

          by shentino (1139071) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @11:24AM (#34546420)

          I agree with you 100 percent.

          And apparently, so did Monticello.

          Unfortunately the incumbent provider TDS disagreed strongly enough to slug it out in court, and while the referee had the city in the corner, TDS sucker punched them during the bell by getting an injunction against the city and builing their own network while the city's hands were tied.

      • Well our (read: my country's) solution was to force the companies owning the cables to split between ISP and "cable owner", and forcing the cable owner to rent out their cables and capacities to all ISPs for the same rate. Of course they tried to (and still try to) stall wherever they can, but we're getting somewhere.

  • The more I know about Comcrap, the less I understand.

    Is their company run by an evil troll who punishes all those who implement innovation and progress?

    I have never, EVER heard anything good about Comcrap.
    I would submit to a full-time McDonald's wifi connection before I would subscribe to Comcrap.
    • by Farmer Tim (530755) <roundfile.mindless@com> on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:05AM (#34545506) Journal

      Is their company run by an evil troll who punishes all those who implement innovation and progress?

      Yes, and MBA's don't appreciate being called names.

    • Re:Oh Comcrap! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by suso (153703) * on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:28AM (#34545738) Homepage Journal

      From what I've heard about their infrastructure staff at a few conferences, they seem somewhat competent as they've been into IPv6 and DNSSEC from an early stage (doesn't always mean anything though). It is 10Gbits which is impressive, but I can't believe thats their only link out. They have tens of millions using their internet service right? How can it only be 10Gbits?

      For the record, I am a comcast customer now (for only 2 months now) and I do agree it sucks balls compared to the fiber to the house I had before. But I also deliberately chose to go with cable internet for the first time because I wanted my own real experience to back up my suspicions instead of just angry posts by random people on forums.

      • Re:Oh Comcrap! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:38AM (#34545826) Homepage

        But I also deliberately chose to go with cable internet for the first time because I wanted my own real experience to back up my suspicions instead of just angry posts by random people on forums.

        Sounds kinda like smacking yourself in the face with a frying pan to confirm it hurts. :-P

        • Re:Oh Comcrap! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by suso (153703) * on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:53AM (#34546056) Homepage Journal

          Not really. I used to work for an ISP for 7 years that dealt in both DSL and Cable (don't ask how). I know the technologies behind DSL and Cable modems and know that the design of DSL usually wins out in situations where lots of people are online in the same area. Most people don't understand this and only pay attention to the marketing and data rates. For many years I had either direct ethernet, high speed wireless link,DSL and fiber to the home. So I wanted to try cable out to see how it was because all the marketing and clueless people making claims can really confuse the issue. I'm just familiarizing myself with my industry so that I have first hand experience when I give others advice. There is nothing wrong or sadomasochistic about that.

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            There is nothing wrong or sadomasochistic about that.

            Indeed, no, based on your supporting reasons I won't disagree with you.

            I'm just not sure I'd subject myself to worse internet service than I already had to gain some better empirical knowledge.

            I applaud you for doing it though.

            Cheers

      • From my experience of living in 2 different areas of the country, Comcast is second only to fiber in speed. Now, of course my sample size is small, but when I read about the horrors of other cables cos or DSL I'm happy to have Comcast. I think it just shows how crappy the other broadband companies are.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      It's the company that destroyed TechTV [wikipedia.org]. Nuff said.

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:03AM (#34545482)

    Comcast needs to be stopped before NBC goes cable only and maybe even comcast only in area with more then one cable system.

    I don't want to lose CSN CHICAGO on Dish / Directv / WOW cable / RCN cable and ATT uverse

  • Stop The Cap (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bengoerz (581218) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:04AM (#34545492)
    Anyone who is offended at the behavior of these ISPs could join http://www.stopthecap.com/ [stopthecap.com] It may be futile, but at least it's better than whining.
  • by gtvr (1702650) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:05AM (#34545500)
    Comcast is horrible, and this is just one more piece of the pie. For example, last time we had a service call, there were multiple automated calls, as well as the tech, calling to ask if we still had the problem & wanted a tech to come out. YES. Call center people that aren't empowered to make you satisfied - for example, for a service outage they can't give you a credit, just put in a request to another department. Poor escalation procedures. And so on.

    Please someone tell me that Verizon is better, because I really want to switch to FIOS when it's available.

    • The speed and quality of my connection is excellent. Can't say much for the customer service though. Have fun waiting on hold for hours.
    • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:11AM (#34545564)

      Verizon is much better. I am very happy with my 35/35 mbit symmetric fiber connection. Almost no outages at all. Way less than comcrap which used to drop out on a weekly basis for me. If you don't live in a state/city with FIOS, move.

    • I've had very few problems with my Verizon access -- it's possible that their Customer Service is as bad or worse than Comcast, but I've never needed to use them.
    • fios is not expanding into any new areas for the forseeable future.

    • I hate Comcast. When I was in NJ that I switched to DirecTV and added Verizon DSL (slower) to do a dual connection from my house in case Comcast went out (only $19, can't beat that for a second connection). When I moved to Maryland I had to go back to Comcast for everything until Verizon FiOS became available in October. So far no service calls have been needed for my FiOS compared to Comcast which had its issues down here too.

      As for Verizon FiOS welcoming, it was a little over the top to the point of a
  • Does Comcast simply not care about their customer satisfaction ratings, or are they on a quest to consciously plunge their ratings into the gutter? I ask semi-seriously because the latter strategy has merit: they can effectively do whatever they want without fear of too much consequence. After all, if they still have customers after kicking them around like this with the crap they've been pulling, they can probably continue to treat their customers like dirt and get away with it.
    • by BrianRoach (614397) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:19AM (#34545648)

      Arguably, no, they don't care.

      Most monopolies don't. Even in areas where they have to compete against DSL, there's only a small segment of the population that can purchase service that rivals theirs in terms of advertised speed / service. And even then ... who are they competing against? Well ... the phone company, which has a stellar reputation when it comes to customer service ...

      • We don't have to care. We're the phone company.

        XOXOXO Ma Bell
      • Arguably, no, they don't care.

        Most monopolies don't. Even in areas where they have to compete against DSL, there's only a small segment of the population that can purchase service that rivals theirs in terms of advertised speed / service. And even then ... who are they competing against? Well ... the phone company, which has a stellar reputation when it comes to customer service ...

        The phone company's 100-year reputation isn't always a reliable predictor: I recently had an excellent experience with the local phone company. My Comcast download speed, advertised as “up to” 12 million bits per second, was actually between 6 and 7. I had been waiting for DSL to be available for years, and when it finally was, I invited Fairpoint, the local telco, to install it on 30 days approval.

        They sent me a DSL modem, which I hooked up, and then waited for the service to be switched on. To my surprise, they dispatched a technician. I walked him around the property, showing him where the wires were buried, and he then followed the pair of wires that connected me to the neighborhood fibre termination point, making sure I had a straight run. When he was done I had an excellent signal to noise ratio, and was able to actually get the advertised 15 million bits per second of download speed.

        The technician told me that mine was the first 15 million bits per second installation he had done, so that might be why he went the extra mile (literally—the neighborhood fibre termination point is a mile away) to make sure I got good service. Nevertheless, it shows that when you get down to the level of individuals, the reputation of the organization doesn't tell you much.

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:25AM (#34545700) Homepage

      Does Comcast simply not care about their customer satisfaction ratings, or are they on a quest to consciously plunge their ratings into the gutter?

      Well, in the past, lots of people have pointed out that Comcast is essentially a monopoly in places, so, it's not like they're competing with anybody.

      They simply have no incentive to spend money. They've got all of these customers now, and spending money on infrastructure isn't going to make them any more money, so why do it? Upgrading is just straight cost, and without a benefit to them, why do it?

      The very cynical answer is that until they're more or less forced to upgrade, they have no incentive to. They make money by overselling a service -- the closer to maxed out the service is, the more money they make. They don't really care about you, they care about their profits -- they're not gonna spend profits just so some people have a faster connection.

      And, they're not going to give up on the revenue of having people co-locate with them, so they're doubly uninterested in fixing their capacity issues.

      Welcome to the "free" market, it isn't really about customer choice and value -- it's abut maximizing profits and giving you the least amount of service they can get away with. This is a perfectly logical situation when you look at it from their point of view.

  • Net neutrality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by airfoobar (1853132) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:08AM (#34545540)
    Seems like they are intentionally congesting their links to force content providers to pay them extra for prioritisation. Ground rules for net neutrality are needed.. badly.
    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      If you could prove somehow that they are causing the congestion and it's not the customers, THEN you are totally on to something. But look at the graph, it didn't spend much time at 100% before the Thanksgiving (US) holiday. At that point, a lot of people (mostly college students) just got a whole lot more bored with their lives and are no doubt watching youtube/netflix/hulu at a greatly increased rate.

      Should Comcast be persecuted because there is a holiday rush on internet video? Probably not. Come on,

    • by erroneus (253617)

      Be careful of the spin machine.

      It might be argued that net neutrality principles should not and can not compel an ISP to buy bigger pipes. If their "limitation" is uniform and across the board, then they are being network neutral. So, if ALL incoming traffic is similarly impeded (which would seem to be the case) then there is no case to claim network neutrality being compromised here.

      And this isn't about forcing content providers to pay for prioritization either. It is about Comcast offering to host the

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Seems like they are intentionally congesting their links to force content providers to pay them extra for prioritisation. Ground rules for net neutrality are needed.. badly.

      How will net neutrality force Comcast to buy more bandwidth and uncongest their links?

      This strikes me as the type of problem meant for States' Attorney Generals and not Net Neutrality.

      • Re:Net neutrality (Score:4, Informative)

        by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:48AM (#34545970) Homepage

        How will net neutrality force Comcast to buy more bandwidth and uncongest their links?

        In theory, by disallowing them to charge content-providers extra to deliver the content in a timely manner, and forcing them to address the root problem of simply not having enough capacity compared to what they sell.

        This strikes me as the type of problem meant for States' Attorney Generals and not Net Neutrality.

        This will never happen in America ... once they make the argument that spending their profits to improve service without getting any more money is tantamount to communism, then they'll continue with the way things are now.

        From their perspective, if they actually had to have the service they advertise, they'd be losing money. This is a shell game that relies on overselling what you have (by several times) in order to make as much money as possible. End-user satisfaction would just eat into profits -- never mind the fact that they basically have a monopoly paid for by the tax payers in terms of right of way and the ability to lay cables that only they can use.

  • The article indicates a 1:5 upload:download ratio. Would this be because most plans have e.g. 1mbit up : 10mbit down throttling (or similar) ?

    I find it interesting that they could increase their upload speeds with minimal performance hit, or would that take away their argument against level 3?
  • Interesting data, but I almost find more interesting the use of MRTG to show it. :) Perhaps we can infer from this that whoever grabbed this traffic wasn't using Comcast network tools, and instead used their own tools for a simple and easy setup? Hmm. :)
    • by rickb928 (945187)

      MRTG is good enough for carrier-class deployment, and has been since 1993 or so. I relied on it to keep track of various metrics for our ISP business back then, everything from link utilization to Usenet volume to disk free space to modem utilization. (Side note, that #3 modem that had WAY more connection attempts than all the rest? That's a defective mode, boss, let's move the blade to the end of the pool until we get a replacement, ok? Just a thought...)

      But damn, our first T-1 never looked like that.

  • Is this unattended (torrent) activity? I find it hard to believe that it is active web surfing / video streaming for the majority, unless daytime usage is extremely low and what we are seeing is that the network is completely overwhelmed with modest/typical use by 2nd/3rd shift shift workers.
  • by Rockoon (1252108) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:17AM (#34545632)
    The Comcast argument is that they have a peering agreement with L3 (and TATA too) but that is simply not the case. Both L3 and TATA are providers for Comcast.

    TFP (The Fucking Post) points out that Comcast runs its terminations with TATA at full capacity for most of the day and concludes that they do so on purpose to force services like Netflix to co-locate with them (= $$$ for Comcast.)

    So L3 says to Netflix.. "Hey.. you dont need to be a slave to the Comcast overlord" and Comcasts reponse is to re-brand its business relationship with L3 as a "Peering Agreement."

    Many slashdotters bought this bullshit hook, line, and sinker on the last Comcast vs L3 article. They did so because they learned about peering relationships at some point in other slashdot stories and took their 1:1 free peering knowledge and incorrectly applied it to the L3 and Comcast relationship.

    L3 is Comcast's internet provider. Comcast's claim is like you claiming that you can charge your ISP because more stuff comes downstream to your LAN than goes upstream from it.
  • Can't This Backfire? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JackOfAllGeeks (1034454) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:27AM (#34545724)
    Can't this backfire on Comcast? I mean, if a Comcast customer tried watching Netflix and they can't get a good connection because of congested links, the user isn't going to think "Netflix is crappy" they're going to complain aboyt how they've got such a crap connection through Comcast.

    That's only meaningful if there are alternatives/competition in the area, and there might be an argument that Comcast wants to push it's own video streaming service (which wouldn't crap out).
    • I though Netflix buffered, metered the download rate, then determined when to start playback. Ok, so you're having to wait a few minutes to start the movie to ensure no interruption of playback. It's not a big deal unless you're watching real-time live streaming video (as events occur).

    • by characterZer0 (138196) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @10:49AM (#34545984)

      You would think so, but the average user does not think that. The average user thinks "My YouTube videos of cats stream just fine, but Netflix does not. It must be Netflix's fault."

    • by Amouth (879122)

      the user isn't going to think "Netflix is crappy"

      care back that up?

      I can understand if the User was using netflix and it was working fine then due to congestion it started to lag and skip they might blame Comcast..

      but at the same time a user who has never seen it work correctly doesn't know who to blame for the problem and is more likely to just top using it.

      but if they stop using it they will still want their content - the next best service that "doesn't lag out" is video on demand..

      the average joe doesn't know anything about how an ISP works or over sel

    • by alen (225700)

      ClearWire WiMax service is $50 a month for unlimited 4G internet. 3G is 5GB max per month. that's your competition

  • Is this the acme of US innovation... How to screw and lie for profit?

    That's all I got, the abuses of corporate owned government are too pervasive to list again. Until YOU stop giving them your money, it will only get worse.
  • Wha, yeah!
    C'mon, yeah
    Yeah, c'mon, yeah
    Yeah, c'mon
    Oh, yeah, ma
    Yeah, I'm a back door Santa
    I'm a back door Santa
    The public don't know
    But Comcast understands
    Hey, all you people that tryin' to sleep
    I'm out to make it with my midnight leak, yeah
    'Cause I'm a back door Santa
    The public don't know
    But Comcast understands
    All right, yeah
    You routers eat your dinner
    Eat your pork and beans
    I eat more bandwidth
    Than any man ever seen, yeah, yeah
    I'm a back door Santa, wha
    The public don't know
    But Comcast un
  • by divisionbyzero (300681) on Tuesday December 14, 2010 @12:29PM (#34547244)

    I think it would be a delicious irony if as result of the scrutiny Comcast is receiving due to their proposed acquisition of NBC regulators not only to denied the acquisition but further split the company in half. One half would be Comcast cable and the other half would be Xfinity broadband. Comcast cable would be forced to lease the last mile lines to Xfinity as well as any other broadband provider that is interested. That would be justice and therefore it will never happen. We're just going to see a ban on charging for traffic that terminates in their network.

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