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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 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.

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes
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