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Net Neutrality: The Plot Thickens

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Comcast blocks one of the most popular file-sharing systems, BitTorrent. In essence, the cable-modem provider jams the usual conversation that occurs between two copies of the BitTorrent software at the start of a file transfer:

Each PC gets a message invisible to the user that looks like it comes from the other computer, telling it to stop communicating. But neither message originated from the other computer -- it comes from Comcast. If it were a telephone conversation, it would be like the operator breaking into the conversation, telling each talker in the voice of the other: "Sorry, I have to hang up. Goodbye."

The AP cited reports from BitTorrent users and its own tests, in which reporter Peter Svensson tried to download a copy of the King James Bible using the popular file-sharing system.

In two out of three tries, the transfer was blocked. In the third, the transfer started only after a 10-minute delay. When we tried to upload files that were in demand by a wider number of BitTorrent users, those connections were also blocked.

(Why the Bible? It's in the public domain, so the AP wouldn't have to break any copyright laws while trying to download a copy.)

The AP's story quoted Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas as stating that Comcast "does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent." Further down in the story, however, the piece also has Douglas saying "we use the latest technologies to manage our network to provide a quality experience for all Comcast subscribers."

This is a big deal, and not just for Comcast users.

The ability of an Internet provider to screen, filter or downgrade its users' access to certain sites or services is at the heart of the "net neutrality" debate. That argument has faded from the headlines over the last year. There's been a lack of hard evidence of providers doing any such thing and a lack of vigorous lobbying efforts (including some amazingly duplicitous ads) by big telecom companies. Now net neutrality looks like it's back in the news.

I am looking into this issue for my column this Thursday, and I could use your help. If you use Comcast and also have a copy of BitTorrent installed, have you had any issues with obtaining or sharing files? (If you're experiencing a BitTorrent communication breakdown with any other Internet provider, I'd like to know about that too.) Please let me know in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 22, 2007; 11:25 AM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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Comments

While I agree that providers may have a legitimate right to block the amount of data transferred by each customer, I don't think they should have the right to block specific content. What does it matter to comcast that I am using BitTorrent? As long as I am not downloading a disproportionate amount of data or more than I am allowed to. If comcast gives each user x amount of bandwidth, I should be able to use all that for whatever I want.

Posted by: Bart | October 22, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I agree that this is pretty scary - I'm generally wary of slippery-slope arguments but in this case, it doesn't seem too hard to imagine companies deciding to block gambling or "adult" sites "to provide a quality experience for all Comcast subscribers." Yikes.

Bart's right - if they want to manage bandwidth, they should give their members a limit and let them do whatever they want within that limit.

Posted by: Stef | October 22, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps the best way to visualize net neutrality is this graphic: http://i7.tinypic.com/5z6vt4n.jpg

Source: SteveX Compiled (http://blog.stevex.net/)

Posted by: Bart | October 22, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I think that someone should look into how this is affecting online gaming.
I got rid of comcast the second that Verizon FIOS was available in my neighborhood, so I can't test this myself, but several game servers I play on have suddenly been plagued by inexplicable lag, making the games almost unplayable. This just started in the past few weeks, and the server administrators can't locate the problem. The problem is intermittent and, when polled, there is always a few comcast customers playing when this happens.
I can't say for sure, but I think comcast is interfering with online game playing, too.

One thing the bittorrent blacklisting has made clear to me is that comcast is desperately running out of bandwidth, and will risk alienating certain customers because comcast's network is maxed out. Take note comcast stockholders...the writing is on the wall...

Posted by: Patrick Huss | October 22, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Something is going on with Comcast. I have two Halo 3 players in my household and I get this complaint all the time about "lagging" online during the games. In some instances, the Internet has even "timed out." This problem me, too, since I do university courses online. We had a sporadic county-wide "outage" that caused me to miss my deadline by several hours. Although we called Comcast after weeding out equipment (including the router) as the culprit, we initially got busy signals, a taped message provided information that the outage had affected two counties in southern Maryland. As for my case, I was in the middle of uploading an essay for a graduate school assignment, and the Internet web went down right in the middle of that, causing me to be 9 hours late. Comcast had better come up with something better to do, lest I make this company my marketing class project on how not to building its brand equity for its customers...and I won't be quite nice about that writing based on what I'm seeing here.

Posted by: Mad Comcast Subscriber | October 22, 2007 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Say Comcast is creating problems for bittorrent because it's often (if not always) used in violation of copyright laws. Wouldn't they have some potential liability for allowing its use to continue?

Posted by: ah | October 22, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm on Comcast. I switched from BitTorrent to Azureus (better UI, more options over downloads, partial downloads, bandwidth control) over six months ago and haven't seen any problems. I downloaded something about 700MB with plenty of peers in about an hour last night, no problems. Would what Comcast is doing target only a certain application or the torrent communication itself?

Posted by: Dale | October 22, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

My Comcast account has been having a related problem--some perfectly good email addresses are now generating mailer daemon messages of UNDELIVERABLE. This has occurred in the last two months, and these are addresses that were formerly no problem at all. In all, there are 4 addresses that are now undeliverable, 3 of them being recent addresses and one of them I have been emailing to for years without any problems. I've called Comcast tech support, and they say the problem is Outlook, which I do use. However, when I go to my Comcast.net account online, the same thing happens. So it has to be Comcast. Getting them to own up to the problem, though, is not working. I'm strongly considering switching to another ISP.

Posted by: Bill Drew | October 22, 2007 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I use Comcast and run LimeWire from time to time and I can tell you that Comcast DOES most certainly restrict uploads.

Here is a case in point:
I had a single file for people to upload, I don't remember the name but I rarely have files to upload and someone was actually accessing this file, thus I turned up my bandwidth to allow that person to download this file quickly--it was a rather large file 100+MBs. When I changed the settings in LimeWire instantly the upload was 60+kbs and that lasted about 20 seconds then it dropped way down to 2kbs and wouldn't go above 10kbs. I've also noticed that if I use LimeWire to download files during business days I get slower speeds than if I download during the weekend. This is regardless of what I download.

I am currently looking into DSL for my service at this time.
The reason is simple. I pay for a certain amount of speed and I pay for it if I'm using it or not, and mostly I'm not, thus when I do use my bandwidth Comcast ought to allow me to actually use it. It's sad that 90% of the time I use cable Internet for email and news then once every so often I find something on LimeWire worth downloading and I'm restricted?!?!?! I might as well have dial up! In effect what Comcast is doing to users like me is reducing their bandwidth to less than 60kbs and charging for 5+MBs!

Posted by: Charles | October 22, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Dale, that is an interesting question, you could answer it by using bittorrent again and seeing if you have problems. I guess that the traffic on the network is the same for bittorrent and azureus, although azureus may handle the spoofed packets differently. The original AP article pointed out that in some locations, comcast did not appear to be operating the "filters". Maybe you are in one of those areas.

Posted by: Patrick Huss | October 22, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Hello fellow outraged comcasters - This coupled with the Big Ten Network dispute highlights the fact that Comcast must be held accountable by consumers.

I am active in an online community at the www.thepoint.com and think that this would be a wise investment for an online campaign.

The Point (www.thepoint.com), a new social media community that works with the power of the group to solve problems, change worlds, and plan activities.

You can set up a campaign on The Point, that is then activated when the right number of people join to get to that tipping point. It's wisdoms of the crowd meets activism.


Let me know if you would like a demo, and we'd love to see your campaign on The Point.

Posted by: Neal | October 22, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Patrick,
After re-reading the article, I saw that I live in a place where there was no evidence of blocking, the Boston area. So that's probably it, not the application.

Posted by: Dale | October 22, 2007 1:08 PM | Report abuse

In the end, it really doesn't matter what they block. It will never stop the hard-core user, only the uneducated public that knows nothing more than to download an .exe file and install a program.

The simple use of encryption for P2P is not only available, but would render their filtering software obsolete within a matter of months (the more people use it).

We have also forgotten about VPNing through another host to avoid all of their filters all together.

This action on their part is only an inconvenience to the general public to protect their proverbial butts from a lawsuit. It doesn't even show up as a hiccup for those that actually take the time to configure things properly.

If you can't figure out what I am talking about, you are part of the masses. Please step away from the debate and quit making mountains out of molehills.

Posted by: Larry | October 22, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Comcast has hundreds of ads on its "Power Boost", when downloading files. The biggest problem with them in North-east Florida is when the system goes down they act like they didn't know about it or blame everybody else. Try to get customer service and they have about 100 options on the recording. The slower the system gets, the higher the price goes up. To beat all lately they tell me my browser needs an update, I have the latest Mozilla Browser. They do promote Internet Explorer 7 optimized for Comcast.

Posted by: Rafael | October 22, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Larry, I think you miss the point. It isn't about protecting the company from intellectual property liability. It's about protecting the consumer from unfair service constraints. For instance in your argument you assert that the user may be able to circumvent the problem by using additional software. How is that different from Chinese internet users who have to use 3rd party software to view the Amnesty International website? In either case the user's freedom to use the service they have purchased (internet bandwidth access) is intentionally restricted by the provider of the service in opposition to their communication rights. If we are a country that supports freedom of speech, why is data I send to you in the form of bytes right now is any different from the data people sent to each other in the form of letters when those very rights were written? I fail to understand how the FCC is allowed to neglect this issue.

Posted by: Matthew | October 22, 2007 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Last week Comcast pulled the plug on my "unlimited account" for going over the limit of what I was allowed to download. They had warned me four months ago but refused to tell me what the limit was or how I was to monitor my downloads. I am now on another ISP.

Posted by: Jim | October 22, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

People might be attributing Comcast's actions to an incorrect motive. I forget all the pertinent laws regarding liability of the carrier but I'm fairly certain that they're not culpable.

I'm inclined to believe that the reason why they're doing this is due to bandwidth. I worked for the high-speed division of one of the large cable companies and the concerns weren't so much about what people were downloading - porn and illegal music - but about the amount of bandwidth they were using. Even the original article indicated that the efforts appeared to be targeted to manage the volume.

So in your discussions, I'd suggest that you look at the possibility that they don't particularly care what people are moving so much as the fact that those applications consume so much bandwidth. And I reckon that if you go back and look through the contract that you signed but never read, you'll see any number of clauses that allow them to do what they feel is necessary to defend and maintain their network.

From the original AP article:

Comcast's interference, on the other hand, appears to be an aggressive way of managing its network to keep file-sharing traffic from swallowing too much bandwidth and affecting the Internet speeds of other subscribers.

Posted by: Igniferroque | October 22, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure if this was at all related, but last Thursday I attempted to download the new version of Ubuntu using the uTorrent BitTorrent client. It worked great, downloading the entire 695mb iso file in about 20 - 25 minutes. But immediately following, and while I was seeding the file, my Comcast internet connection was shut off. Not just BitTorrent, but my entire connection for the rest of the night. Leaving me unable to read the forums, download (legally) songs from iTunes for my upcoming 12 hour road trip the following day, and my girlfriend unable to continue working on her homework for her Ph.D. It was working the following evening (or so she told me, I was gone on said road trip). I like to think it was a coincidence, and there was an honest technical glitch causing interruption to my service at that exact moment. But it seems highly fishy.

Posted by: Jon | October 22, 2007 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Matthew,

I suppose I overshot the original intent of the article, but suffice to say that if we are a "country that supports freedom of speech..." its been a long time since we have actually enjoyed it. I believe you are referring to the illusion of free speech. I say illusion because of all of the rights we have already lost as a nation of freedom lovers post Sept. 11. I wont keep harping on that one since there are already several sites out there to voice those opinions.

Having been a major proponent of trying to keep the internet free of control for many many years, I would say they have done a pretty good job thus far.... And as much as I hate to stand up for the likes of Comcast, they ARE a service provider to the end-user. Granted they don't give us choice for cable modem service in our localities, but it's their system non-the-less. If they decide to block all porn, then you know what? They will and there will be nothing anyone can do about it other than work around the system. If you don't like it they will just send you off to get Satellite, Radio Link or Fiber access. They know its coming to the end of the line for them and they are just looking for a quick buck before the bottom drops out; by squeezing out as much junk as possible to accommodate the growing user-base

There is no law that states that you have to stop using P2P software, but if everyone is using it in a no-so-legal way, then I would probably do the same thing in their shoes. Those that have legitimate business will have resources and know-how for legitimate work-arounds. Or those that know how to get around it will... I wouldn't care since the changes affect the masses which in turn affect the bulk of the bandwidth. If you care that much you will have to learn to work around things or get out from under their thumb by example as seen in the next paragraph.

Remember the days when we would go out and lease a T-1 and then re-sell the service to our neighbors...? What is stopping you from doing that? Too much time to invest? (I know it's not money since they are cheap these days) It would eliminate the Comcast problem and you can block or allow anything you deem on your network.... Much like Comcast is doing.

I used them for years and hated them all the while. No choice, but then again I didn't complain when they would try and shut down my FTP ports or otherwise restrict me back then, I worked AROUND the problem. I now use Fios which I am sure will be doing the same thing (if they aren't already to some degree)

If you don't like Comcast, there are other options out there. Net Neutrality deals with the net on the whole, not individual providers. Become your OWN provider and you won't have to worry about what Comcast is doing... And you can give the finger to the authorities when they ask you for logs of one of your neighbors... It's a good feeling especially when they come back with a warrant only for you to tell them you keep no logs :)

Posted by: Larry | October 22, 2007 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Insight Communications (which co-owns my broadband connection with Comcast) also blocks my BitTorrent streams.

Posted by: Alex in Illinois | October 22, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I had no idea about this. I have downloaded BitTorrent and tried to use it many times but was always left frustrated because it never seemed to work. I wondered why people thought it was so great. Now I find out that my Internet provider is the problem, not the software. I have always despised Comcast on the cable end, but I never previously could fault them as an ISP. Looks like that has all changed now.

Posted by: Ryan | October 22, 2007 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Bart @ 11:50

The only problem with your graphic is that assumes ONLY ONE PROVIDER. We need laws/regs that promote MANY high-speed-ISPs in ALL areas... then, instead of MERELY your 3-tier package from a single provider, you'd have a dozen ISPs to pick from. Your family might go with an un-filtered Wild West ISP.

Mine chooses an ISP that has a Wikipedia, Yahoo, MSN priority boost from 9am to 5pm, then a priority boost to WoW, XBox360, & Skype from 5pm to 10pm, then all-access overnight.

My mother's Retirement ISP offers a deep-discount access package with high priority for email and the big news sites, entirely blocking many other ports.

My sister's ISP traffic-shapes for Restoration Hardware and Williams-Sonoma. They also gin up some B.S. "Extra Security" that my bro-in-law, being a rich idiot, pays way too much for.

My brother's ISP offers priority to bittorrent seeds from Phish, et al., and promises to fight a Holy War with the RIAA (even though most of his preferred artists aren't represented by the RIAA)

Get it? We've got to break the oligopoly, not build new DC bureacracies to trap the current system in amber.

Posted by: Rich | October 22, 2007 4:54 PM | Report abuse

World of Warcraft users in my area sure have noticed. The update system uses bittorrent.

Have fun paying for a monthly fee game that your ISP blocks.

Posted by: bt | October 22, 2007 5:03 PM | Report abuse

As Chairman of Netcompetition.org which is funded by Broadband companies and which opposes net neutrality, let me share my Precursorblog.com post on this issue which provides the other side of this AP "hit" piece that did not provide appropriate or fair context.

"Comcast is within FCC's net neutrality policy that allows for "reasonable network management"

"In the latest desperate attempt by net neutrality proponents to find something, anything, that will galvanize their supporters in Congress to do something on net neutrality to show the issue is not on life support -- FreePress put out a press release that has desperately leaps on an AP story that alleges that "Comcast blocks some Internet traffic" -- in hopes to revive their call for net neutrality hearings and legislation.

Before the net neutrality movement hyper-ventilates themselves in the usual frenzy that these type of one-sided pro-net neutrality stories generate, its important to go and read what the FCC's bipartisan net neutrality policy statement actually says in the final words of its official statement: that the net neutrality "principles we adopt are subject to reasonable network management."

"Reasonable network management." The FCC and others that are "reasonable" about this issue realize that the net neutrality radical's insistence that every bit be treated equally is simply not the way the Internet has ever been run, nor has it ever been required for cable companies, nor does it make any real world sense!

First, I have a one-pager that point-by-point debunks "The Net is Neutral Myth." This "neutral" perception is manufactured and not based on fact but a radical political agenda.

Second, Cable modems have never been subject to net neutrality common carrier obligations. Period full stop.

Third, the insistence that all bits be treated equally makes no sense at all.

Is it "reasonable" to expect the network to be managed as all bits are equal? And not have a wide diversity of competitive choices for consumers to choose from like: free Wifi, cheap dial-up, or a wide variety of broadband speeds, prices, or mobility offerings?
Is it reasonable to expect a network to treat all bits equally when consumers have different needs, wants and means demanding a diversity of consumer offerings?
Is it reasonable to expect a network manager to treat real-time voice traffic that can't have any speed latency to maintain expected quality no differently from an email, a file transfer where microsecond or multisecond delays are not going to affect the expected quality of service?
To understand how silly the allegation is against Comcast -- that it shouldn't be able to apply common sense and sound management principle to its private network -- think about how silly this expectation would be if applied to the delivery of mail or packages.

Under the logic of the AP Comcast story and the radical no network managment view:
Fedex could not deliver a 1 oz letter any different than a five hundred pound box of equipment.
Wouldn't it make sense for Fedex to use a forklift or a dolly for a heavy box and just one person for the letter? and to use a different truck and a different building entrance for the bigger box than for the letter?
This is analogous to the difference it is to manage the traffic of an email (1 oz letter) and a video file (a five hundred pound box.)
Moreover, is it not reasonable for Fedex to charge more for managing the delivery of a five hundred pound box than a 1 oz letter?
Bottom line: The demands and expectations of the activists in the net neutrality movement are completely unreasonable and divorced from the reality of what it takes to manage a broadband network with the quality of service that the public expects and has paid for.

This type of "gotcha" activism is getting old.
This must be the umpteenth time these activists have leapt on a supposedly "smoking-gun incident" without knowing the facts and assuming only the worst of intentions of broadband providers.
This boy has cried wolf! too many times...
It seems like these activists are desperate to prove themselves right and to regulate the internet.
They should care more about maintaining a highly-functioning Internet managed for the expected quality of the vast majority of Internet users and not for the few bandwidth hogs ruining the utility and responsiveness of the Internet for everyone else."

Posted by: Scott Cleland | October 22, 2007 5:10 PM | Report abuse

You're talking about what is delivered, vs. how it's delivered. There's more to the issue of net neutrality then just bandwidth management. Your analogy is flawed in that regard.

Posted by: John D in Houston | October 22, 2007 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I live in rural Maryland, and we don't have high-speed options here. On those rare occasions when I need to access P2P stuff, I use uTorrent and just let it run quietly away in the background for however long it takes. During these sessions, my ISP (Expedient) does appear to disconnect me more frequently than it does otherwise, but I have no firm data to support this.

However, I recently spent two months in New Jersey (my mom had a hip replacement), and I used my mom's Verizon DSL account to get some stuff that I wouldn't usually bother with. (Again, I used uTorrent, and I had encryption turned on.) From what I saw, Verizon is definitely constraining internet speeds in suburban Philadelphia. When I initially started downloading, everything ran fine for about a day. Then my bandwidth started decreasing, eventually going down to 3kps -- about what I have on dial-up at home. That was for the entire internet connection, regardless of whether I disconnected/reconnected, rebooted, or repaired the connection. Then the bandwidth increased to about 20kps for several days, then full-speed for another day, then 3kps for another day, and the whole cycle repeated. What was extremely annoying was that the slowdown affected the entire account: uTorrent was slowed, yeah, but regular surfing/email/IM/etc was also slowed.

But, after about 2-3 weeks of this cycle, something interesting happened: my uTorrent downloads were still constrained to about 10kps during the weekday, but I could achieve uTorrent speeds of up to 50kps late nights and weekends, with the occasional rare burst of up to 90kps. Even more interesting, for the most part, they apparently tiered the traffic *within* the account. Surfing, email, video from uTube, Comedy Central, and the House Judiciary Committee hearings all went at full speed, even when uTorrent was apparently restricted to 3-6kps. This made more sense to me and wasn't something I could argue with: my surfing (and everyone else's) was at normal speeds almost all the time, and I used excess bandwidth when it was available. It was a good compromise, and I applaud Verizon for their programming. (Though, yeah, this obviously wouldn't work well for gamers ... )

Posted by: JC | October 22, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with Patrick Huss. I used to live in an apartment with Comcast as my only provider. My service was constantly going out and on one of my many conversations with tech support a tech told me that the line had been oversold. That may not have been true but I think it was. As a computer tech in the small business and home segment I can say that Comcast is by far the worst provider I have ever worked with. I haven't been too impressed by Time Warner either.

Posted by: Greg | October 22, 2007 7:01 PM | Report abuse

The restricting of Peer to Peer connections by ISPs has nothing to do with the liability of the companies or piracy, and everything to do with the overselling of bandwidth. It is how ISPs make a profit. They build their networks with the expectation that most of their customers will not use the bandwidth they have purchased, or at least that only a small percentage of their customers will at any given time. As more and more people begin to use bittorrent and related technologies their networks are strained because ISPs did not plan on customers being able to really use what they paid for. Although peer to peer technologies have many legal uses the public assumes it does not. Making it a perfect red herring for people who want justify unethical behavior. "Shut down the pirates" sounds so much better than "We don't want to give you what you paid for".

Posted by: Eric | October 22, 2007 8:03 PM | Report abuse

I am a Comcast subscriber and also use Azureus, sometimes I notice it goes really slow downloading, but then late nights it seems to work ok. I am serviced by the Philly Comcast network.

I wish I had a choice to change, but Comcast is the only game in town!

Posted by: Andy | October 22, 2007 8:51 PM | Report abuse

I have been using Comcast for a few years. Within the last year, I have been having issues uploading content [nothing MPAA RIAA protects]. The upload rate is deathly slow, takes me days to upload even a small file even if many peers connect.

Posted by: TillL | October 22, 2007 8:57 PM | Report abuse

I am live right down the road in Arlington, VA and have Comcast service. After reading the AP article I downloaded Azereus and downloaded a few gorillaz videos and a Spiderman 3 HD trailer through the program and found I was unable to upload them to anyone else, as the AP article says. My understanding is with BitTorrent this makes you a second class citizen and you see significantly reduced download speed because you are not sharing with others. I also read that many of the movie studios have signed up with BitTorrent to distribute their content so it sounds like the legal uses are multiplying. You have to love the BitTorrent idea getting better download speed all the while reducing the costs the content creator pays in hosting fees. Win-Win

Posted by: VA Comcast Customer | October 22, 2007 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: VA Comcast Customer Again | October 22, 2007 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Also worth mentioning, lets say you have no issues downloading or uploading bittorrent files. Comcast caps any type of upload on it's primary internet plan at an embarrasing 30KB/s (768kbps). My first DSL connection in 1999 had the same upload speed. Try using online backup solutions, sending a large email attachment, or running a bittorrent client while simply browsing a website. Your connection quickly grinds to a halt as web page requests and other uploads try to squeeze through this tiny pipe. Your download speed is often only as good as your upload speed.

Posted by: Jason | October 22, 2007 10:13 PM | Report abuse

I use an open-source torrent client with Comcast on a Mac and have no trouble. That said, if Comcast is shown to be invading privacy by blocking certain online activities, they should be sued immediately. Let's stop corporate interference with our online choices before it's a trend.

Posted by: aj | October 22, 2007 10:36 PM | Report abuse

My experience is that their filter blocks www.google.com, which contradicts their saying that it does not effect normal web downloads. As far as shifting demand to unused times, it appears to totally ignore the time of day or peak usage times.

The filter will cut connections where you are sending more than receiving, and will cut connections where someone has sent you all the pieces they have, but is leaky, in that if you keep sending it will eventually send. It appears to care nothing at all about bandwith usage, which contradicts Comcast's stated reasons for installing it.

Two things occur to me. First, Comcast is deliberately lying about the existance of this filter, which means that they are deliberatly promising things which they have no plans to deliver. This is faud and can be prosecuted. Secondly, by cutting off service entirely to their service region, they would appear to be in violation of their franchise agreements, which unless they are written by someone incompetent should mandate service to all customers in the region willing to pay regular rates.

Check around. There are a lot of areas with another company with both better service and much cheaper rates.

The last time Comcast pulled something like this, it got stopped immediately after Ameritech started advertising on TV that you were allowed to download more on their DSL than Comcast allowed before pulling your account. The only thing which will stop it is a bunch of people canceling their accounts while complaining about their Sandvine filter.

I'm currently looking around for different service myself.

Posted by: IL Comcast Customer | October 22, 2007 11:04 PM | Report abuse

Downloading files using BitTorrent on Warner Cable in Austin TX regularly occurs above 400 KB/s whereas in Amherst MA the rate for the same files rarely exceeds 60 KB/s on Comcast before being throttled back before rebounding again. Constantly cycling

Posted by: Jack | October 22, 2007 11:19 PM | Report abuse

I don't use Bittorrent aps, because of the UPload limit and that isp's don't like it when you leave your connection downloading large files. and then the massive uploading. I would suggest people find out the policy of their isps on bandwidth limits and what causes slow service.

Posted by: Rand | October 23, 2007 12:41 AM | Report abuse

A more precise discussion of exactly what Comcast has been doing is on the TechLiberationFront blog, particularly in this post.

"Comcast blocks one of the most popular file-sharing systems" is too sweeping a statement. Exactly what they have been doing remains unclear, but they appear to have been interfering with BitTorrent (and other P2P applications) in particular locations during periods of heavy usage. Without the technical knowledge to judge, I'm agnostic at this point, but at least one commenter on the TLF blog thinks they're doing the correct thing for managing this type of traffic on cable infrastructure.

Posted by: Jim Harper | October 23, 2007 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I think that if Comcast has a problem with the amount of bandwidth that users use then they they need to make it CLEAR how much bandwidth is allocated to each user.

Maybe they should make it 50 GB a month or something. That way users will know how much they have and wont get cut off when they hit some hidden comcast limit.

I also think that within your monthly limits you should be able to go to and download or share whatever you want. If you are doing something illegal then you should be responsible for it not comcast!

Bandwidth needs to be more like web hosting. When you buy web hosting you know upfront that you have say: 1 GB of space and 20 GB of month of transfer. Within that 20 GB of transfer it doesn't matter what kind of files, does not matter the upload or download or who is connecting! Long as it's within your bandwidth limit.

With Verizon FIOS and others coming into the market comcast better come clean or they will start to lose BIG business.

Posted by: Ty Miles | October 23, 2007 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Bart's graphic says it all about net neutrality. Thanks Bart. The truth is, the provider culture has to change and they haven't "got it" yet. They have had a near monopoly in their area for so long that they think it is their right to do whatever. No wonder real technology upgrade is lagging. If the providers really created the bandwidth that is available in Japan, for instance, the media wouldn't have the excuse of limited resources to squeeze our last dollars from us in order to get less censored information.

Posted by: lhorner | October 23, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I have no problem with this at all. I have Comcast Cable and high speed internet and they have every right to manage their network.

Posted by: David | October 23, 2007 11:38 AM | Report abuse

This spring Comcast shut off our high speed internet service entirely because they accused us of 'abusing' the sytem by downloading too much. I was sharing files in a couple of legal live music trading site (sites with strict policies against posting copywrited material). Comcast refused to tell me A) how much I was allowed to download each month, or B) how much I actually had downloaded. I can guarantee you however that I was not downloading anything near to '1000 songs per day', as Comcast claimed in a recent press report to be the amount of downloading somebody would have to do in order to get shut off. So bottom line is that they not only are secretly blocking Torrent downloading, but they are also kicking out customers for doing so (even though they claim to offer 'unlimited downloading' when they sell to people in their ads).

Posted by: BobOran | October 23, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

On the relationship between Comcast's alleged wrongdoing and public utility regulation of broadband ("net neutrality" regulation), it doesn't flow directly from any wrongdoing that there should be regulation.

Here's a blog post where I've discussed how market forces (including this comment thread) are harnessing Comcast's behavior and that of other ISPs.

I'd be surprised to see a regulatory body act as quickly to discover, analyze, and correct a violation of net neutrality or any other consumer demand in Internet service. The burden is on proponents of regulation to show how law, regulation, and a government agency can do better than the Internet community (including you, Rob, and all your readers).

Posted by: Jim Harper | October 23, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

You people act like having internet access (or more specifically, bitTorrent access) is some kind of public right guaranteed in the constitution. It's not. I'm not a Comcast customer, but I fully support their right to manage their own network and prioritize traffic. (If that's even what they're doing, and the evidence is sparse at best.) Don't like Comcast? Go somewhere else. Don't have other options? Try reading a book instead of living on Halo all day long. When I was a kid Dominos didn't deliver out to our house; we were half a mile beyond the limit they'd go. There were practical limits to the service Dominos provided me. Did it irritate me? Sure it did, and we had a lot of frozen pizza. But Dominos didn't make Mom and Dad buy that place in the sticks, and Comcast didn't make you buy that high-speed. Free markets work, people.

Posted by: Max | October 23, 2007 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Max, the issue is that Comcast advertises 'unlimited access' but then secretly blocks traffic and even shuts people off for taking the 'unlimited access ' at face value. If Comcast clearly published what is allowed (in a quantifiable way - such as gigabytes used per month, etc.) then everything would be above board. Instead they have kept the rules of fair engagement on their system secret from their own customers. And unfortunately in many areas people do not have a broadband alternative to Comcast. They should just publish their rules upfront and not behave like some sort of secret police.

And PS I think you work for Comcast.

Posted by: BobOran | October 23, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Whether or not Comcast blocks, slows or otherwise tampers with any Internet access is largely the wrong point, so long as they disclose up front what they will do. To the point, every ISP in some way manages the network and appropriately so. What chaos would result if there was no traffic management?

A simple analogy - what if we had no traffic management at critical rush hour times in DC. Some of you might scoff that given the mass congestion we essentially have no traffic management in the whole Capital region. That is the point...what a mess.

Also on point is the matter of control of business models. Many may opine as to the "best" business model that any particular business should pursue. Certainly the professional managers and owners of the companies are always looking for ways to maximize the value of the organization, including adding new customers and providing the best experience possible for current custmomers. These guiding lights provide the best input for the best model.

Posted by: Bartlett Cleland | October 23, 2007 2:56 PM | Report abuse

If "Bartlett Cleland" is the same poster as "Scott Cleland" then that should be disclosed in his post. There is nothing wrong with a paid lobbyist participating in these discussions, but their input should be clearly disclosed to everyone. Mr. Cleland has an economic interest in believing only one side of this issue, readers please take note...

Posted by: Patrick Huss | October 23, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

If there is one area of anything the government regulates more effectively than the private sector, I've never seen it. Traffic on the Internet is growing exponentially; broadband providers are investing billions to keep up with that demand, and will need to for the foreseeable future. Not to expect glitches and growing pains along the way seems painfully naive. To call in the government to "save the day" is dangerous.

As networks grow and expand and the Internet grows to meet new protocols and applications, the scarcity of bandwidth will probably become more and more apparent. Prioritization and network management is essential. The question would more properly seem to be whether Comcast is doing a good job of it and if not, how they could be doing it better. It seems logical that different networks will deal with this problem in different ways, and we may all hope that new and better ways may be found. But if the government mandates how the Internet must be managed, don't expect to see anything better than we have now. Who would invest money in something that you'd lose complete control over the minute it becomes operational?

Creeping government control will inevitably lead either to freezing the Internet in place, or the government actually building and managing the network. And if that doesn't scare you, nothing will.

Posted by: Derek Hunter | October 23, 2007 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I haven't used BitTorrent in months but back when I last tried I could never get anything to download and I didn't know why. Even with plenty of seeds it just stalls. The only reason I haven't switched to FIOS is that it seems to require a yearlong contract and if I move there's a good chance it won't be available in my new location.

Posted by: Jeremy | October 23, 2007 5:45 PM | Report abuse

There seems to be significant confusion regarding the issues being discussed in the AP article and Rob's blog post.

Comcast has made it clear already that they do not block specific sites or applications. The AP story, if read carefully, suggests that what Comcast is doing (and acknowledges... see its own web site) is bandwidth management to assure that all of its customers get reasonable service. The bandwidth management slows down or temporarily parses the amount of data uploaded from any one customer. This, of course, results in P2P uploads, which tend to be larger, being the ones most affected, whether it is BitTorrent or anything else. They are not discriminating among applications or sites.

This has nothing to do with "net neutrality." Many of the most ardent supporters of net neutrality acknowledge that bandwidth management is necessary to assure that just a few very active users don't "hog" the bandwidth that must be shared by all.

I have been in this business for over thirty years, and if there is one thing that is consistent, it is that there is no such thing as "unlimited" bandwidth! That's why all ISP contracts that I am aware of state that there are limitations of use. This does not conflict with the statement that there is "unlimited access". That term means the ISP is not blocking or controlling your access to any given web site (assuming it is legal) it has nothing to so with being able to use an unlimited amount of bandwidth.

Indeed, what this debate highlights is that the ISPs, Comcast or whoever, have a few options: they can specify limits on bandwidth use, set different fee structures for additional use, or manage use so that it can continue to be used appropriately when available, and limited when congested. Personally, I have urged the industry to set metered fee structures so that the minority that wants to use massive amounts of bandwidth be allowed to do so, but not force the rest of us to pay for it.

Comcast has apparently (I have not talked to them about this lately) decided on a different course of allowing that extra use when it is available and warning those who consistently exceed the bandwidth availability (which is different in different communities, of course) that they will lose access to the system if they continue. So one way or another there is going to be bandwith management. Seems to me Comcast has taken a consumer-friendly approach of trying not to charge the high-bandwidth users, so long as they don't create congestion.

Of course there is another option, and that is to design more capacity into the system. Just about every cable operator is in the process of doing that right now despite new FCC regulations that hog the bandwidth for over the air broadcasters, who should be the last ones to need it, since they already have direct digital access to the home. But that's a discussion for another time.

Posted by: Steve Effros | October 23, 2007 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Quick addition to the discussion, for what it's worth: I've used BitTorrent twice in the last year to download Ubuntu's Feisty Fawn and Gutsy Gibbon right after release over a Comcast connection and have never had a problem. I seeded my Gutsy .iso for a few hours after I downloaded it and uploaded several hundred MB before I decided to shut it down (my old PIII was spending a crippling amount of cycles uploading the file). I never noticed any degradation of service, but I won't be reseeding because I don't want to tempt the account overlords at Comcast by coming close to the upload limits for my service.

Posted by: PK | October 23, 2007 7:17 PM | Report abuse

To Steve Effros from the AP article "Comcast's approach to traffic shaping is different because of the drastic effect it has on one type of traffic _ in some cases blocking it rather than slowing it down _ and the method used, which is difficult to circumvent and involves the company falsifying network traffic. "

Posted by: Patrick Huss | October 23, 2007 11:04 PM | Report abuse

It may be worth noting that, in the UK, the King James Version is subject to permanent copyright, although the copyright has expired in the US and elsewhere.

Wikipedia, in its article 'Crown Copyright', says: "Crown copyright applies to all works produced by the British Government.... There is also a small class of materials where the Crown claims the right to control reproduction outside normal copyright law due to Letters Patent issued under the royal prerogative. This material includes the King James Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer." Of course, these two items are originally done by committees appointed by the government.

Conceivably, Comcast could have been protecting the copyright on the King James Version, that is, protecting the four publishers that are allowed to print it in Britain. So maybe this was not the best example for the experiment.

Actually I doubt if that was what was happening.

Posted by: Eli | October 23, 2007 11:18 PM | Report abuse

In one sense we have always had tiered service -- just not from the same provider.

I have a couple of friends who use Juno as their dial-up ISP. $10/month for 10 hours/month connect time at 54kbps. They are required (or believe they are required) to use Juno's browser and email client.

They use it mainly for email, and frequently complain about it. They bitch about the nearly impossible task of downloading a 7-MB software update. They won't surf the Web because they worry about using up their 10 hours.

They are willing to put up with this because are unwilling to pay $22/month for unlimited hours at 768kbps.

Comcast is preparing us for more tiers in the future, with services tailored to various classes of users: premium services for gamers, P2P users, and certain types of investors; more opportunities to host your own servers; basic services for most of us; minimal service for those stuck in the last century.

Some gamers and traders are already willing to spend $7000 on a desktop computer. The same people will pay more to their ISP's if they can be assured of as least as much bandwidth and reliability than their opponents.

It may or may not be a Good Thing, but it will happen.

Posted by: Eli | October 24, 2007 12:30 AM | Report abuse

God help you if you believe that one!
http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com

Posted by: The Government will help! | October 24, 2007 12:35 AM | Report abuse

@ Rich
You wrote "The only problem with your graphic is that assumes ONLY ONE PROVIDER. We need laws/regs that promote MANY high-speed-ISPs in ALL areas... then, instead of MERELY your 3-tier package from a single provider, you'd have a dozen ISPs to pick from. Your family might go with an un-filtered Wild West ISP."

Your model cripples innovation. If I invent a new service, I can now hire an internet connection and hang out my shingle and if my service is good, then with luck it will be successful. Businesses already pay for higher bandwidth. As my business grows, I can hire more. But if I had to go, hat in hand, to beg each provider to allow my service to run on "their" network, then they could strangle my innovation in the cradle. If we allow neutrality to end, we'll see the internet turn into cable TV.

Let services pay for their bandwidth. Let customers pay for their bandwidth, and then everyone can be happy. Comcast advertises always-on, all you care to use service. If it's too expensive to actually provide this level of service, they are free to sell bandwidth at any variety of prices for any variety of service levels. They already have the power to do this, but they have not. In the mean time, always-on should mean what it says, and I believe network neutrality should remain.

Posted by: killick | October 24, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I would like to add one other point that is not so far mentioned here. The way that Comcast as a corporation is behaving is frankly inconsiderate and indecent to their own employees, as well as to customers. I have spoken to several employees of Comcast, including local sales representatives and service support staff, who were completely unaware of the secret policies that Comcast had inplace about usage limits and interference with Torrent traffic. Except for the Comcast 'Abuse Department', every single employee of Comcast that my wife and I dealt with were very anxious to help us and were totally unaware that the Comcast Internet service wasn't truly 'unlimited'. Unfortunately these sales reps and service staff were telling their customers things that were not true - unbeknownst to them because the Comcast corporate office had kept their policies a secret. And I honestly feel that after talking to these folks that they really were not intending to give us false information and they felt bad about what had happened to us.

This type of Corporate behavior, although maybe not illegal, is IMO immoral. This is just not the way that people should be treated - their own employees and customers alike. People shouldn't be lied to. Employees shouldn't be mislead into providing false information to their customers. When I see the cute Comast TV ads and community event sponsorships I now get a sick queasy feeling in my gut knowing the truth behind their deceptions.

Posted by: BobOran | October 24, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

@killick

I hadn't thought about it in those terms; thanks for giving me a different way to think about it.

As for, "If we allow neutrality to end, we'll see the internet turn into cable TV." What if every house in America had 100 different cable *systems* to pick from? Wouldn't that be something? And I see your point about new services trying to get on more of these systems - but so many people would want at least a basic view of the 'whole' internet, that no one would really be shut down. I wasn't imaging a WoW **only** ISP (for example) so much as lots of all-access ISPs, where some might prefer (but not ban) certain services, sometimes. Maybe I haven't got it explained very well...

Seems like we're both trying to foster new things, but slicing the apple two different ways?

Anyway, thanks.

Posted by: Rich | October 24, 2007 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I also experience email delivery problems to friends in MI getting the same response as Bill Drew above. My friends are told by their ISP that it is because I use OPERA and it wouldn't occur if it was IE. So I have tried IE yes it works fine so does OPERA to all my other friends in the US. The response from the technical support people at my friends ISP had concerned me because I have been using OPERA for over a year now after having no end of problems with IE and it had never missed a beat until the last two months and then it has been sparodic problems which a fortnight ago degenerated into a brick wall.

I would also have assumed that within any file transfer process packet handling woul have been undertaken by the appropriate packet handling standard. Anyone using VOIP with COMCAST and experiencing problems, that would be interesting as there are a number of protocols for packet handling there.

Posted by: anechidna | October 24, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

It isn't even the blocking that is most objectionable, it's the way they do it. Masquerading as someone else to carry out an action is identity theft. If copyright infringement is theft then so is this and no rationalization is going to make if okay.

Posted by: Dan Bernitt | October 24, 2007 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Comcast is behaving typically, just like any other monopoly annointed by our government. Notice how poor our phone services are (both wired and wireless) in comparison to Japan or Europe, especially in the bang for the buck category. Their attitude seems to be:

We're the only game in town, and don't even think of trying to run to the government for help, we've already bribed them with a tiny cut of our revenue.


I'm a big believer in free markets, not in poorly designed and ever more poorly regulated monopolies. Anyone who makes the "free markets can solve all" argument should realize that it will solve nothing in this case because it doesn't exist. We have a series of monopolies for land line services and a nasty oligopoly in wireless service. They lie whenever it is convenient and to whomever they feel they can fool, their employees, their customers, the public at large and of course those who are supposed to regulate them.

Posted by: Robert | October 25, 2007 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Yes, they were definitely filtering P2P traffic here. Starting a couple of months ago I could not seed until I started using encryption. Downloads were fine, but seeding would stop within seconds of getting going.

Of much greater consequence for me, however, is that around the same time that bittorrent traffic started getting filtered, a VPN I connect to at a major client stopped working reliably. I could connect to the VPN server, but the connection was extremely slow and unreliable, to the point of being useless. When I called my client's IT guy his first question was "Are you on Comcast?" Apparently all of their outside users had started having problems connecting through Comcast. He tried repeatedly to talk to someone at Comcast but never got past their first-tier screeners.

Then this week, shortly after the filtering story broke everywhere, the VPN works again. Hmmm.

Posted by: comcastuser | October 25, 2007 6:26 PM | Report abuse

If indeed they are sending packets to each end with a type of "goodbye" packet (in the case of BT), wouldn't that constitute a type of Man-In-The-Middle attack on your communications?

Packet shaping (like what they are reporting they do) means they are just delaying things by priority. Sending a disconnect packet (like some of these reports I have read) constitutes a hack of your communications.

I have no problem with delays, but intercepting packets and passing on false commands that were never intended to be sent, seems to be a pretty clear cut case of hacking peoples connections IMO.

Posted by: Larry | October 26, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

If you head over to DSL reports there is a long thread about the Comcast bittorrent issue. Basically Comcast is terminating the communication links between bittorrent clients when a user on their network attempts to seed a torrent to someone else. (Seeding means transfering data to another computer when you already have a complete copy of the data). In my case I switched to another ISP (DSL) because of this issue.

I have found Comcast to be very sneaky with their customers. They will never honestly tell you what they are doing and/or what problems they are having within their network. In a world of fully competitive ISP services over the last mile, Comcast's behavior would not be tolerated.

Posted by: Slovokia | October 27, 2007 11:48 PM | Report abuse

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