Comcast Screws with File-Sharing Traffic
October 19, 2007 8:07 PM
Tests reveal Comcast meddles with P2P network connections
Independent testing performed by the
that Comcast actively interferes
with peer-to-peer traffic going to and from its high-speed internet subscribers, by impersonating users’ machines and sending fake disconnect signals.
While traffic shaping – the act of throttling a given piece of Internet traffic based on its type, like BitTorrent or VOIP – is becoming increasingly common amongst ISPs interested in preserving quality of service, it seems that Comcast is one of the first companies that actively impersonate individual connections. Most providers will simply slow down some traffic in favor of others, or block a protocol’s port number to prevent it from functioning.
According to the report, Comcast’s technology affects users across many different networks, including e-Donkey, Gnutella, and BitTorrent. Robb Topolski, a former software quality engineer at Intel and Comcast subscriber, began to notice unexplainable performance problems with his P2P software. Posting to the popular forum
, he collected similar reports from other Comcast users around the country.
In the case of BitTorrent, Comcast’s technology only kicks in when a user’s client has a complete copy of the file and is uploading it to other users, and not while downloading.
Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas would not comment directly on the matter, instead only saying, “Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent.”
There are currently very few regulations regarding traffic shaping, and none that specifically cover Comcast’s particular use. The FCC says that while consumers are entitled to run the applications and services of their choice, they are subject to measures of “reasonable network management” by their ISPs. The closest directive governing Comcast’s behavior – which still doesn’t directly apply – would be found in AT&T’s conditions for acquiring BellSouth, where it had to agree not to manipulate traffic in any way based on its origin – not service type.
Comcast’s “traffic discrimination” has important ramifications for the growing number of services that are leveraging P2P as a means to distribute large files quickly and cheaply. A company like Blizzard Entertainment, who relies on BitTorrent for distributing
World of Warcraft
updates that often measure hundreds of megabytes in size, may have trouble reaching its players if it or they are behind a Comcast internet connection. This problem will only worsen if other ISPs decide on a similar course of action.
Ashwin Navin, co-founder and president of BitTorrent Inc. confirmed the
findings, and noted that he has seen similar practices from several Canadian ISPs.
“They're using sophisticated technology to degrade service, which probably costs them a lot of money. It would be better to see them use that money to improve service,” said Navin.
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