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Comcast caught throttling BitTorrent traffic

updated 03:40 pm EDT, Fri October 19, 2007

Comcast BitTorrent Shaping

Comcast has been deliberately slowing down traffic for customers using file sharing apps on its network, the Associated Press confirmed today. Beginning an investigation after speaking with a Broadband Reports user who discovered the practice shortly after Comcast began testing the platform in August, the journalist group has learned that Comcast is using technology from Sandvine that interjects itself between users running specific peer-to-peer software, including BitTorrent clients as well as programs accessing the Gnutella file sharing network. The Sandvine software can detect when complete files are being traded and breaks the connection between peers, forcing a downloading user to look for an alternative.

The service does not completely eliminate such traffic but is enough to substantially hinder download speeds on a standard connection; users can partially avoid the issue by encrypting the data packets to prevent a Sandvine scan but are rarely able to regain full speed for those files, according to the report. Comcast has officially denied implementing any performance-altering software beyond optimizations but has been unable to account for the contradictory results.

"Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent," said spokesman Charlie Douglas.

The discovery marks the first known activity of its kind by a major Internet provider in the US. Canadian provider Rogers is known to use a similar approach to its own network but is not believed to have throttled connections for every user or for more than BitTorrent access.

Comcast's behavior has already renewed a call for legislation to enforce net neutrality, a concept which holds that network operators cannot deliberately slow down or favor certain kinds of non-malicious Internet traffic. Google and other Internet-dependent companies have warned that allowing Comcast and other telecommunications firms to throttle or block access would artificially segregate the Internet, allowing carriers to abuse their positions by blocking access to competitors or charging extra for features that would otherwise be free.

"In the past, when people got an ISP connection, they were [just] getting a connection to the Internet," said Google security engineer Paul Watson. "The only determination was price and bandwidth. Now they're going to have to make much more complicated decisions such as price, bandwidth, and what services I can get over the Internet."



By Electronista Staff
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  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Jan 2007

    0

    Boooooooo

    BitTorrent has other uses than piracy. OpenOffice.org downloads can be had through the service, and that is legal software. That download info is just from "my" general knowledge sphere of operation.

    I'm sure there are other legitimate BitTorrent accessible downloads that are being crushed by the hobnail boots of Comcast. Guess I'll have to look at switching service providers again. That would also make me want to switch away from all of my existing Comcast services, So they'd loose a chunk of change. (sigh)

    Satelite service? Astound? Who's got the p***?

    (no. I will not switch to AT&T.)

  1. birdman

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Jan 2000

    0

    birdman

    Eight or so years ago when I was in college, when Napster and Gnutella were still new and going strong, the university used packet sniffers to slow p2p traffic. Eventually Napster was blocked entirely. The off-campus students used to enjoy full-speed access, but now in 2007 I guess that's the end of that gravy train, thanks to Comcast.

  1. boazh

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jul 2004

    0

    No wonder

    I'm a Comcast customer and don't use torrent apps very often, but when I do, my Internet connection crawls down to almost a halt. Several times my router will stop functioning and I had to reset it. I hate comcast I wish someone will sue their a**...

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    0

    Good for us

    I actually have no problem with this. Why should a majority of users be subjected to slower speeds because one or two people are using specific applications?

    BitTorrent has other uses than piracy.

    Of course it does. But this doesn't have anything to do with piracy. Its with the software. What makes bittorrent so good is its ability to suck up a ton of bandwidth. And while that might be great for the bittorrent users, it isn't necessarily great for others on the same network.

    BTW, to be honest, I find Comcast to be one of the scummiest, greediest, inept companies out there.

    What's really amazing is that someone actually thought that this might be comcast doing this intentionally, and not just their normal 'comcastic' service.

  1. ClevelandAdv

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jul 2004

    0

    Slow torrents

    I have tried to use BitTorrent for open source software downloads, and other legal reasons. And had to stop using it as it would crawl or stop every time. I am guessing that Comcast it not the only ISP doing this.

  1. bammi

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jul 2006

    0

    testudo please check your

    testudo, please read up a little on bittorrent

    "What makes bittorrent so good is its ability to suck up a ton of bandwidth. And while that might be great for the bittorrent users, it isn't necessarily great for others on the same network. "

    Is patently false and an uneducated statement.

  1. wings_rfs

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Dec 2002

    0

    Newsgroups too

    It's not just p2p. I don't know about Comcast, but Roadrunner will throttle you way way back if it sees you're using a port common for newsgroups. Change your port to, say, 80 (http) and you're back to 100%.

  1. Terrin

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2006

    0

    You should care

    You should have a problem with it for a couple of reasons. First, Comcast didn't tell it's customers what it was doing, and went to so far as to actually lie about what it was doing. Who is to say Comcast isn't also controlling its bandwidth by slowing traffic to popular sites such as Google News, YouTube or from VOIP providers like Vonage? In fact, many Comcast customers used to report problems with Vonage calls being dropped all the time. Vonage used to tell me the problem was only with Comcast, and they couldn't figure the issue out. I now suspect Comcast was intentionally disrupting the service, probably to sell its overpriced competing phone service. Do you really want Comcast to be the gatekeeper to information? We need a net neutrality law.

    Second, Comcast does not provide cheap access to the Internet. It sells this expensive internet access as unlimited bandwidth. People do not need unlimited bandwidth to surf the internet. The unlimited bandwidth is for obtaining media via the Internet. That is what Comcast is selling, and that is what people are paying for. If Comcast is secretly managing what its users are doing, the users really are not getting what they paid for.

    As far as the other users on the network argument goes, again that is Comcast's fault. It advertises how much faster its network is then everybody else, and charges you a premium for the service. It needs to build the infrastructure to deliver the promise for all its users.

    You write, "I actually have no problem with this. Why should a majority of users be subjected to slower speeds because one or two people are using specific applications?

    BitTorrent has other uses than piracy.

    Of course it does. But this doesn't have anything to do with piracy. Its with the software. What makes bittorrent so good is its ability to suck up a ton of bandwidth. And while that might be great for the bittorrent users, it isn't necessarily great for others on the same network.

    BTW, to be honest, I find Comcast to be one of the scummiest, greediest, inept companies out there.

    What's really amazing is that someone actually thought that this might be comcast doing this intentionally, and not just their normal 'comcastic' service."

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    0

    Re: check your facts

    testudo, please read up a little on bittorrent

    "What makes bittorrent so good is its ability to suck up a ton of bandwidth. And while that might be great for the bittorrent users, it isn't necessarily great for others on the same network. "

    Is patently false and an uneducated statement.


    Sorry, but it is true. Why do people prefer bittorrent to p2p? Because it can download large files a lot more efficiently and quickly then the rest. It does this by the way it works. Its a side-effect of the way it works (which is why, if you use it and don't throttle your own connection, you have a helluva time doing anything else on the internet at the same time).

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    0

    Re: you should care

    Do you really want Comcast to be the gatekeeper to information? We need a net neutrality law.

    The proclamation that we need a net neutrality law is so easy from the consumer side, not so much from the business side. Its not about controlling your connections to google (I've heard this one, that's so scary isn't it-you might not get your search results for 2 seconds instead of one - the inhumanity!). Its about having to then push out more and more capital improvements just to make sure everyone is 'happy'.

    And then, of course, you'll all be up in arms when the ISPs start raising their rates to pay for improvements, or lower their caps so that they can make sure they can meet the 'law' of neutrality, or adding in caps on daily usage, or just everyone being slowed down (not just a single user) to make sure everything is 'neutral'.

    There's lot's of 'great' with neutrality, the problem is no one seems to understand what could go horribly wrong with it as well.

    Second, Comcast does not provide cheap access to the Internet. It sells this expensive internet access as unlimited bandwidth. People do not need unlimited bandwidth to surf the internet.

    Are you sure they sell 'unlimited' bandwidth, in the sense of using as much as you like, or 'unlimited' as in you can use it whenever you like? Better check those TOS! Everyone was excited about the iPhone's unlimited data plan, but if you read the rules, its not unlimited in the sense you can use it to download 6 gigs of linux distributions.

    And all networks have a limited bandwidth. I don't care what it is. They supply enough for general use at all times, but if you get a dozen people in a neighborhood sucking in and spitting out shared files, this affects all the other users out there who might be having trouble getting email, using VOIP, etc.

    In fact, did it ever occur to you that your VOIP might have kept slipping out because your area was too filled with people downloading the latest Debian builds?

    As far as the other users on the network argument goes, again that is Comcast's fault. It advertises how much faster its network is then everybody else, and charges you a premium for the service. It needs to build the infrastructure to deliver the promise for all its users.

    Of course its their fault. But also remember they say their max speeds are just that, max. They don't promise that speed. All sorts of things can affect it. But you'll be up in arms if you don't get it.

    Then again, if you're stupid enough to pay for Comcast service, you should have to live with it.

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