Users outraged last October when they discovered Comcast messing with their P2P

The FCC announced a formal investigation into Comcast’s controversial practice of “data discrimination” in response to a flood of complaints from consumers and Internet groups.

Last October, users discovered that Comcast employed a novel implementation of traffic shaping against its subscribers, which impersonated subscribers' machines in order to trick their P2P software into disconnecting. While this form of traffic shaping met Comcast’s objectives – to control the massive bandwidth sink that results from illegal P2P use – it also affected legitimate P2P users, as well as unrelated services, like the network features in Lotus Notes.

User suspicion eventually culminated into an investigation by the Associated Press, of which the results were released last October. Shortly afterwards, testing at the Electronic Frontier Foundation reached a similar conclusion, and as a result released the “Test Your ISP” project – allowing users to see for themselves whether or not their ISPs implemented similar practices.

At the heart of the matter is whether or not Comcast’s “data discrimination” is permissible under the FCC’s guidelines of “reasonable network management,” and whether or not the practice is a violation of the current rules on network neutrality and service availability. Speaking Tuesday at CES in Vegas, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told consumers that the FCC will “investigate” the matter in order “make sure that no consumer is … blocked.”

“The question is going to arise: Are they reasonable network practices?” said Martin. “When they have reasonable network practices, they should disclose those and make those public.”

Comcast’s PR team was caught off-guard by the initial turn of events in October, as even after the practice was outed by the Associated Press, Comcast continued to deny any kind of manipulation. However, facing the wrath of an increasingly angry Internet mob, Comcast’s tune quickly changed to a coy comparison of its actions with that of a busy signal, like one hears over landline telephones.

Complicating an already messy situation, a California man filed a class-action lawsuit against Comcast last November. In it, plaintiff Jon Hart accused Comcast of breach of contract, as well as violating the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, the Business and Professions Code, and the Legal Remedies act by throttling bandwidth and “transmitting unauthorized hidden messages” to subscribers’ offending software.

“Comcast plans to work with the Commission in its desire to bring more transparency for consumers,” said Comcast executive VP David L. Cohen. “We do disclose in our terms of use our right to manage our network for the benefit of all customers.”

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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