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."