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ISP Giant Compares Its Filtering with a Busy Signal

Lawyers and privacy groups are reportedly “circling the waters” over Comcast, who stands accused of using an aggressive kind of traffic shaping that impersonates individual P2P users and compels their computers to automatically disconnect.

Comcast’s actions are perfectly permissible under the terms of use described in its contract with customers, which states that Comcast reserves the right to “refuse to upload, post, publish, transmit or store any information or materials, in whole or in part, that, in (its) sole discretion, is … undesirable or in violation of (the) agreement.”

However, many are concerned that Comcast’s actions with regards to BitTorrent traffic – that is, impersonating users’ computers – may not entirely be legal as many states have laws regarding impersonation. In the state of New York, for example, section 190.25 of the penal code describes the crime of “criminal impersonation in the second degree,” in which one may not “[pretend] to be a representative of some person or organization and does an act … with intent to obtain a benefit or to injure or defraud another.”

While legal grounds may be shaky at this point, the EFF has reported that it has received numerous calls from various firms that are considering legal action.

Meanwhile, Comcast has adjusted its response. The original response, says Brad Stone of The New York Times, seems to have caught Comcast’s PR department off-guard. The new response reads, “Comcast does not block access to any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services like BitTorrent … we have a responsibility to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience and we use the latest technologies to manage our network so that they can continue to enjoy these applications.”

The reality, however, is more complicated says Stone. Speaking on anonymity, a Comcast internet executive told The New York Times that Comcast was indeed manipulating traffic, through data management technologies designed to conserve bandwidth. As part of that process, the company will attempt to delay P2P traffic to preserve other users’ quality of service. He described the process as being akin to the busy signal in a phone call: users are perfectly able to hang up and try again later.

“In cases where peer to peer file transfers are interrupted,” writes Stone, “the software automatically tries again, so the user may not even know Comcast is interfering.”

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By wwwebsurfer on 10/23/2007 3:46:47 PM , Rating: 5
Of all the things I bash lawyers over, I hope they take Comcast to the cleaners on this one. If I'm paying for 5 or 8Mb I understand that network load will reduce my numbers. However, that doesn't give Comcast the implied right to arbitrarily RESTRICT my bandwidth based on protocol. What I do with it is my business.

By Master Kenobi on 10/23/2007 3:52:06 PM , Rating: 2
Yes and No. The laws and agreements for this sort of thing are very grey. I do expect a legal showdown over this sort of ISP activity.

By mindless1 on 10/23/2007 6:55:57 PM , Rating: 4
If you're paying for an 8Mb account and they decide you don't get your 8Mb to do "X" with it, so they can "preserve" bandwidth for someone else's different purpose, that's not grey at all!

They set your cable modem to limit up/down speed, that is the only thing they should be entitled to control. If their network can't sustain a few people actually using the bandwidth they pay for, that's a whole second set of lawsuits.

By Master Kenobi on 10/23/2007 8:17:10 PM , Rating: 3
The laws governing how that bandwidth can be used and what constitutes "general acceptable use" are very grey. Technically they want to make these BitTorrent users to pay more for a Business Class line rather than a consumer line. Comcast does this all the time for high bandwidth users.

By h0kiez on 10/24/2007 8:40:10 AM , Rating: 2
I agree, but what Comcast is doing here is essentially selling something that they have no ability/intention to provide (at least not to a large portion of its customers for a sustained period). Comcast "offers" 8MB speeds, but if every one of their customers used all that speed all the time (or even half...or probably 10%), their network would be shut down. If they want to create more tiers of service and charge a lot more for you to be able to get 8MB down all the time, I'm fine with that. But right now, they're just lying to their customers about the service that they're buying.

By mindless1 on 10/24/2007 3:42:32 PM , Rating: 2
If they had the users upgrade to a business account it'd be even worse. Yet again they're finding with the higher modem cap that even more bandwidth is used, causing more /supposed/ interferance with others' bandwidth.

I'm not suggesting that something won't have to give somewhere, but it all starts with being honest with customers instead of secret plans that effect service after having been paid for that service.

By ajdavis on 10/23/2007 9:59:01 PM , Rating: 2
I agree this is a grey area. My main use for bittorrent is legal content, video podcasts and the like. If they are sending disconnects to my peers for that it seems like they are only hindering a legitimate use.

What difference should it make to comcast whether I'm sucking down bandwidth due to a legal download or otherwise? I'm still going to be using that bandwidth...

By TMV192 on 10/23/2007 3:53:50 PM , Rating: 2
I just with American broadband companies weren't as monopolistic as they are
if we had a lot of ISP options, we wouldn't need lawsuits; Comcast would have been suffering from a business standpoint

By gramboh on 10/23/2007 4:03:04 PM , Rating: 2
The problem (same thing in Canada) is land mass/population density. The capital investment is huge to deploy new technology/networks so there are only a few major players.

I think if you dig in the user agreement, you will find lots of vague stuff about service agreements and bandwidth, so you really aren't buying a dedicated 10mbit pipe at all.

By darkpaw on 10/23/2007 4:41:22 PM , Rating: 2
Cable never even advertises that you're buying any dedicated speed. Its always "up-to" based on traffic, etc. DSL gets a bit closer if not slower. If you wanted something remotely close to a garunteed speed you need a leased line.

By TomZ on 10/23/2007 4:50:48 PM , Rating: 5
I always thought the vague performance specifications ("up to...") were a load of B.S. It's like going to the store to buy a gallon of milk, and the milk having the volume marked as "up to 1 gallon."

It wouldn't bother me as much if when I had to pay the bill, I could send in an amount "up to $59.95"!

By Christopher1 on 10/23/2007 4:55:55 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, that struck me as a little bit of legal stupidity as well! They should advertise up to X speed, but more usually between Y and Z speeds.

By darkpaw on 10/23/2007 5:00:27 PM , Rating: 3
Its stupid, but the way cable modems work in a cell based system its really all they can do. They can't promise everyone 6Mbps all the time if a particular cell only has a 54Mbps total and a few hundred users.

Look at the price comparison between a garunteed 1.54Mbps at several hundred dollars a month vs an up-to 6-12Mbps line for $50 a month.

Garunteed bandwidth is one of the biggest differences between commercial class and consumer class lines.

By TomZ on 10/23/2007 5:08:05 PM , Rating: 3
I understand, but going back to my milk analogy, that's like saying we don't know how many people are going to buy milk today. And since we have a fixed total amount, we'll have to give each customer some amount "up to 1 gallon."

Somehow we have a different expectation for ISPs than we do when we purchase other goods and services.

I especially find it interesting that DSL is sold the same way, even when there are dedicated circuits. The providers should be able to provide a guaranteed bandwidth there without incurring high costs.

By Aiserou on 10/23/2007 5:34:50 PM , Rating: 2
The milk analogy doesn't really work though. Milk and broadband have vastly different supply and demand scenarios. For milk, there is a reasonably stable demand for the product, that also happens to generally be lower than the supply. For cable, the demand can fluctuate wildly on an hourly basis, depending on everything from the weather, peak hours, or if a popular game was just released. The supply is in most cases much lower than the peak demand.

Then you add in the fact that the quality of the milk doesn't get worse just because you get far away from the store. With cable, if your trying to download something from the other side of the country, or even another country entirely, your probably not going to get the max speed on your line.

When you combine all those factors, it becomes nigh impossible to guarantee a certain speed to every customer all the time. Of course, if it's advertised as a guaranteed speed to the public, and that speed is not achieved, lawsuits will start flying. So yes, it is legal protection, but it's very much needed legal protection.

All that being said, the bit-torrent thing is pretty shady ;)

By mindless1 on 10/23/2007 7:07:19 PM , Rating: 2
True, you will not often get the max your line can deliver, but the crucial point is where the bottleneck is, that regardless of what the other end and intermediary network can sustain, that once it's onto your provider's network, they have implied towards the end of advertising a specific service, that they have facilities (bandwidth, etc) to allow it, not just once in a blue moon but rather for the continual use of the service.

Naturally due to the shared bandwidth nature of the service, some latitude is necessary, but not too much, as that would just allow them to go even further overpopulating segments. Nobody expects them to be perfect, but always due diligence in meeting their claims.

By euclidean on 10/23/2007 5:08:14 PM , Rating: 5
Very correct.

But, instead of spending the money to develop software that impersonates your computer and shuts off bit-torrent traffic, why not invest it into more bandwidth/upgrading your network!?....

just my thoughts.

By mindless1 on 10/23/2007 7:01:47 PM , Rating: 2
Based on their own technical decisions regarding customer performance they have already deviated from that ideology.

If you as a customer do a test and continually get some score far lower than your account is supposed to support, they will (if you aren't extremely passive about it) send someone to correct that situation (of course, after the obligatory level 1 instructions to face Mecca, dance around swinging a chicken, reboot everything and connect your PC straight to the modem.

By conceding the speed is too low and needs "fixed", they are accepting they have an obligation to get you the speed they advertised, not just "up to (n)" but darn near it.

By maverick85wd on 10/23/2007 5:35:46 PM , Rating: 2
not necessarily... I moved to the UK not too long ago and over here they have several ISP's and their "fair usage policy" (at least for Toucan, a Tiscali reseller) is far worse than what I experienced in NC or in MI. From what I have read on broadband web-sites, most here in the UK are just as bad or worse. And I'm paying roughly 30 pounds (about $60 US) per month, not including the phone line which I have to have because all they have over here is DSL... and here it's roughly $20 just for the line, without any calls made. At roughly 40 pounds a month I actually pay less than a lot of my friends that get internet through BT.

Either way, I think it is garbage... I was appalled to see it when I first got here and it makes me sad to see the internet in the states is headed in the same direction.

By Quiescent on 10/23/2007 8:25:30 PM , Rating: 2
That's one thing I'd like to take into account for if I ever move out. Find a place where there is an ISP that doesn't screw you over. Since that is mostly out of America, I guess I just have to find one that doesn't screw you over too much.

By Quiescent on 10/23/2007 8:26:34 PM , Rating: 2
Not to mention that I use Skype which ALSO uses P2P. I would sue on the spot if I got disconnected for using Skype.

By ajdavis on 10/23/2007 10:03:39 PM , Rating: 3
Did you really say "if I ever move out"? I hope you don't mean from your parent's house because for most that's a when situation.

By Alexstarfire on 10/23/2007 5:08:35 PM , Rating: 2
I second that. Heaven forbid they do what they are supposed to do and improve their network as they get more customers. All these ISPs want to do now is keep the same bandwidth and just suck money from people. That's not right. I know not all ISPs are like that, but the big ones are. I want to be able to download as much as I want/can, for what I am paying. We may not have the most outrageous prices for internet service, but we certainly don't have the best either. I want what I paid for. What's the point in paying $60 a month for a 6MB connection if I can't even use it to get what I want, legal stuff.

P2P is gonna be around forever since it doesn't require the use of huge servers. May not give you the absolute fastest speeds, but it cuts out the huge costs associated with owning and operating a server. When some companies, or people, can't afford to own a server with TONS of bandwidth then this is the best option.

If they'd just improve the damn network with all the money we give them then not only would we end up with better service overall, but I'm sure that they would end up providing more customers with more bandwidth, faster speeds, in the long run. Of course that requires a lot of hard work, and we all know that "hard work pays off in the future, laziness pays off now" as my T-Shirt says.

By DigitalFreak on 10/23/2007 5:12:37 PM , Rating: 3
aka - Having their cake and eating it too.

By tdktank59 on 10/23/2007 5:40:06 PM , Rating: 2

Ive got comcast and ive had it for about 4+ years now...

The next best thing in our area is i belive dialup... so its a pain in the ass if we want highspeed since dsl isnt even offered in our area...

Im still waiting for Fios to come into my area...
But i wont get my hopes up... Ill probably not get that until i move for college and get it installed into my house where im going...

Anyways ive been noticing that the p2p downloads are going hell of a lot slower than they used to... On average before i used to get around 300+ kbs on each file now im lucky to get 20kbs...

I hope comcast is brought to court and looses big time...

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins
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