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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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I'm really torn on this.
By SiliconAddict on 10/23/2007 6:32:18 PM , Rating: 0
On one hand I think what they are doing is bullshit. On the other hand when a small portion of their total clients are the ones using a high % of the bandwidth is it fair to make everyone poney up the money to upgrade the infrastructure? I mean what about Jane and John Doe who do nothing more then check their e-mails, occasionally share some picts, and browse. Invariably they are going to have to eat some of the cost of an upgrade.
Realize though that I use BT. I go through about 5-9GB per month. I don't want to be billed for this but I would at the very least have an option for unlimited bandwidth even if that costs me $80 a month. But if they are going to do that they damn well better give me a static IP with it and some extra perks.
*shrugs* I don't know. Just seems like there is a legit case on both sides.

RE: I'm really torn on this.
By Rav3n on 10/23/2007 7:19:45 PM , Rating: 3
If they were up-front about all of their policies, including how they were intending to traffic-shape, then it would be perfectly within reason for them to give the generic "You have up to X bandwidth, and the following activities will be restricted."

The problem is that they have not been forthcoming with these policies, and it took consumer effort to discover this. This is not cool. They should be forced to be more revealing in their policies -- so the consumer has access to the information. Should they be sued because they chose to ignore this? Eh.

RE: I'm really torn on this.
By mindless1 on 10/23/2007 7:33:21 PM , Rating: 5
IMO, there is no "other hand".

They advertise the service, they cap the cable modem. If you see a speed limit on the expressway, stating 65MPH, would it be ok if you got a ticket for trying to always drive a steady 65MPH instead of going 65 for a few seconds, then 25, then 45?

What about Jane and John checking their email? If they notice even the slightest delay due to someone else using the bandwidth they paid for, point the finger at the cable company because they are the one who ran out of bandwidth, who oversold their network capability.

If you don't blame the ISP, what will stop them from further and further overselling their capacity? Nothing. They'll gladly keep taking in money and only upgrade the network when their perceive customer satisfaction is at issue. How do they know it's an issue? When you tell them instead of blaming someone else.

As for John and Jane, many ISPs have tiered service, if John and Jane don't use much bandwidth they can opt for the lowest tier of service.

I really don't see a case on both sides. This is a service for access and bandwidth, not a matter of subjective judgement as to what that bandwidth is used for.

Suppose I hated you favorite UTUBE videos but you love to watch them all the time. Is it ok if you get throttled back because I and a few others think your videos aren't a waste of time/junk/etc? Of course not, because you paid for the bandwidth to do with as you please. If Comcast wants to stipulate further limits to their users they can do so, but when they've been directly asked about such things they have shifted from (is it ignorance or a lie to say "No" when the truth is "yes") denial to vagueness to PR blurbs, never coming clean about specifics of what a maximum bandwidth per month is.

If they want to institute any kind of policy it has to be an official, disclosed term of the account that cannot be witheld from the customer paying for that account. There's no two sides to it, no grey area, no nothing except their practices bording on breech of contract. You (Nor they) can't just make vague references before a contractual agreement is made then expand those rights without limit after the agreement has been met, unless the other party agrees. Legal precedent is fairly consistent about this, generally abhors open-ended god clauses.

RE: I'm really torn on this.
By jtemplin on 10/23/2007 11:16:37 PM , Rating: 2
Very cogent arguement, and well put : )


RE: I'm really torn on this.
By Alexstarfire on 10/23/2007 7:34:37 PM , Rating: 2
Well, if you got people that are only surfing and emailing then I doubt they have a 6MB connection or so anyways. Those are the people that benefit from having the 384mbps DSL lines. They are plenty fast enough to do surfing and emailing without tons of latency issues. They can also download files like 10x faster than dialup. It also costs about as much as dial up too.

The 6MB users and such are paying for this extra bandwidth. What's the point in having it if you can't even utilize it. My games don't need it, my surfing doesn't need it, my emailing doesn't need it. The only place I need it is for downloads. There are so many things that I can't download on the internet that it's not even funny. The only other places to get these things are P2P programs. You limit that and it can kill a lot of stuff.

I'll have to watch my download speed on bittorrent though. If they are consistently lower than what they normally are I'm gonna tell my dad to change our service. I'm not gonna be part of this throttled internet crap. Who are they to tell me what I can download and where I download it from when I AM PAYING THEM?

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