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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 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...

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