Comcast Screws with File-Sharing Traffic
October 19, 2007 8:07 PM
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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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10/20/2007 3:24:32 AM
Every ISP could follow suit, and then in that situation, while everyone can download just fine, nobody can upload, so there is nothing to download. What a great solution it must have seemed to the Comcast suits.
I honestly dont see this practice lasting for three big reasons:
Firstly once made public it could play havoc with a customer base as soon as any kind of real alternative was offered. And any kind of problem that so many will want to be rid of opens up huge opportunities to someone else prepared to solve it. Comcast wont want the risk to their customer share by opening the doors to allow that to happen.
Then there are two very interesting legal points here. I don't know about there in the US, but here in New Zealand Id bet pretty strongly that this practice would be legally challenged into oblivion:
A Comcast customer can say: You promised me a service, which you are capable of delivering and you are WILLFULLY degrading it and deviating from the contract made between us WITHOUT either my permission or even my knowledge - I am taking you to court and suing your ass off in a class action.
Lastly, and it gets worse, based on the information so far, a Comcast customer can say: You are IMPERSONATING ME!. Along with identity theft and invasion of privacy issues, there are all kinds of potential violations that this one brings.
The only UPSIDE to this is that if the RIAA go you for file sharing, since Comcast want to be you so badly they are impersonating you, then when the RIAA come knocking on your door you can point them down the hall to Comcast and ask them to prove it wasn't them not you that was even "making available" the offending data.
Comcast I bet you never ever thought of that when you thought up this brilliant plan.
RE: So theoretically...
10/20/2007 3:52:02 AM
Comcast's contracts most likely include a mandatory arbitration clause, which would make a lawsuit much more difficult to pursue. (I haven't seen Comcast's contracts so I don't know for sure.)
Second, most of the public, right now, doesn't care enough to pack up their cable TV and internet service and switch to another provider because the house downloader suddenly can't upload. I doubt most people would fully understand the concept if it were explained to them clearly. Now, if services based off BitTorrent take off, and suddenly grandma Helga has to make a nasty phone call to LegalVideoMovieDownloadoramaSoft Inc HQ so that she can finish downloading the content she paid for, THEN maybe the public will notice and/or care.
Until then, Comcast pretty has the legal ability to have their way with you.
RE: So theoretically...
10/20/2007 9:16:45 AM
The big issue is the impersonating the customer when it really is Comcast. While that might skew a RIAA investigation, more than likely Comcast can identify with logs what connections were real vs. artificials.
Similarly speaking, it also puts a reason of doubt on identify management. Taking to the next level, this might skew FBI investigations. With the reason of doubt now, it could be a method of evading prosecution for pedophiles, terrorists, and other bad guys.
Could be a reason to push for IP6.
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