View Full Version : Comcast blocks some Internet traffic

2007-10-19, 10:51 AM

Comcast blocks some Internet traffic
Tests confirm data discrimination by number 2 U.S. service provider

By Peter Svensson

Updated: 2 hours, 15 minutes ago
NEW YORK - Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.

The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users.

If widely applied by other ISPs, the technology Comcast is using would be a crippling blow to the BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella file-sharing networks. While these are mainly known as sources of copyright music, software and movies, BitTorrent in particular is emerging as a legitimate tool for quickly disseminating legal content.

The principle of equal treatment of traffic, called "Net Neutrality" by proponents, is not enshrined in law but supported by some regulations. Most of the debate around the issue has centered on tentative plans, now postponed, by large Internet carriers to offer preferential treatment of traffic from certain content providers for a fee.

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.

Number two provider
Comcast, the nation's largest cable TV operator and No. 2 Internet provider, would not specifically address the practice, but spokesman Charlie Douglas confirmed that it uses sophisticated methods to keep Net connections running smoothly.

"Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent," he said.

Douglas would not specify what the company means by "access" Comcast subscribers can download BitTorrent files without hindrance. Only uploads of complete files are blocked or delayed by the company, as indicated by AP tests.

But with "peer-to-peer" technology, users exchange files with each other, and one person's upload is another's download. That means Comcast's blocking of certain uploads has repercussions in the global network of file sharers.

Comcast's technology kicks in, though not consistently, when one BitTorrent user attempts to share a complete file with another user.

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. Good bye."

Matthew Elvey, a Comcast subscriber in the San Francisco area who has noticed BitTorrent uploads being stifled, acknowledged that the company has the right to manage its network, but disapproves of the method, saying it appears to be deceptive.

"There's the wrong way of going about that and the right way," said Elvey, who is a computer consultant.

Comcast's interference affects all types of content, meaning that, for instance, an independent movie producer who wanted to distribute his work using BitTorrent and his Comcast connection could find that difficult or impossible as would someone pirating music.

Internet service providers have long complained about the vast amounts of traffic generated by a small number of subscribers who are avid users of file-sharing programs. Peer-to-peer applications account for between 50 percent and 90 percent of overall Internet traffic, according to a survey this year by ipoque GmbH, a German vendor of traffic-management equipment.

"We have a responsibility to manage our network to ensure all our customers have the best broadband experience possible," Douglas said. "This means we use the latest technologies to manage our network to provide a quality experience for all Comcast subscribers."

The practice of managing the flow of Internet data is known as "traffic shaping," and is already widespread among Internet service providers. It usually involves slowing down some forms of traffic, like file-sharing, while giving others priority. Other ISPs have attempted to block some file-sharing application by so-called "port filtering," but that method is easily circumvented and now largely ineffective.

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.

CONTINUED: "Net Neutrality" debate

The "Net Neutrality" debate erupted in 2005, when AT&T Inc. suggested it would like to charge some Web companies more for preferential treatment of their traffic. Consumer advocates and Web heavyweights like Google Inc. and Amazon Inc. cried foul, saying it's a bedrock principle of the Internet that all traffic be treated equally.

To get its acquisition of BellSouth Corp. approved by the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T agreed in late 2006 not to implement such plans or prioritize traffic based on its origin for two and a half years. However, it did not make any commitments not to prioritize traffic based on its type, which is what Comcast is doing.

The FCC's stance on traffic shaping is not clear. A 2005 policy statement says that "consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice," but that principle is "subject to reasonable network management." Spokeswoman Mary Diamond would not elaborate.

Free Press, a Washington-based public interest group that advocates Net Neutrality, opposes the kind of filtering applied by Comcast.

"We don't believe that any Internet provider should be able to discriminate, block or impair their consumers ability to send or receive legal content over the Internet," said Free Press spokeswoman Jen Howard.

Paul "Tony" Watson, a network security engineer at Google Inc. who has previously studied ways hackers could disrupt Internet traffic in manner similar to the method Comcast is using, said the cable company was probably acting within its legal rights.

"It's their network and they can do what they want," said Watson. "My concern is the precedent. In the past, when people got an ISP connection, they were getting a connection to the Internet. 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."

Several companies have sprung up that rely on peer-to-peer technology, including BitTorrent Inc., founded by the creator of the BitTorrent software (which exists in several versions freely distributed by different groups and companies).

Ashwin Navin, the company's president and co-founder, confirmed that it has noticed interference from Comcast, in addition to some Canadian Internet service providers.

"They're using sophisticated technology to degrade service, which probably costs them a lot of money. It would be better to see them use that money to improve service," Navin said, noting that BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer applications are a major reason consumers sign up for broadband.

BitTorrent Inc. announced Oct. 9 that it was teaming up with online video companies to use its technology to distribute legal content.

Affecting others
Other companies that rely on peer-to-peer technology, and could be affected if Comcast decides to expand the range of applications it filters, include Internet TV service Joost, eBay Inc.'s Skype video-conferencing program and movie download appliance Vudu. There is no sign that Comcast is hampering those services.

Comcast subscriber Robb Topolski, a former software quality engineer at Intel Corp., started noticing the interference when trying to upload with file-sharing programs Gnutella and eDonkey early this year.

In August, Topolski began to see reports on Internet forum DSLreports.com from other Comcast users with the same problem. He now believes that his home town of Hillsboro, Ore., was a test market for the technology that was later widely applied in other Comcast service areas.

Topolski agrees that Comcast has a right to manage its network and slow down traffic that affects other subscribers, but disapproves of their method.

"By Comcast not acknowledging that they do this at all, there's no way to report any problems with it," Topolski said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

2007-10-19, 10:51 AM
And this is why every new torrent I post is going to have a slow upload time. This sucks!

2007-10-19, 11:03 AM
Tips in this thread: http://www.thetradersden.org/forums/showthread.php?t=45154

2007-10-19, 11:18 AM
Comcast always had very crappy upload speeds. I used to have them in Florida and they sucked. This just adds insult to injury.

2007-10-19, 02:35 PM
Tips in this thread: http://www.thetradersden.org/forums/showthread.php?t=45154

Thanks, I will check that out when I get home.

Trader Dave
2007-10-19, 04:35 PM
BRISTOW, Va. - She was fined and got a suspended jail sentence, but Mona Shaw says she has no regrets about using a hammer to vent her frustration at a cable company.

"I stand by my actions even more so after getting all these telephone calls and hearing other people's complaints," she told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.

Shaw, 75, and her husband, Don, say they had an appointment in August for a Comcast technician to come to their Bristow home to install the company's heavily advertised Triple Play phone, Internet and cable service.

The Shaws say no one came all day, and the technician who showed up two days later left without finishing the setup. Two days after that, Comcast cut off all their service.

At the Comcast office in Manassas later that day, they waited for a manager for two hours before being told the manager had left for the day, the Shaws say.

Shaw, a churchgoing secretary of the local AARP branch, returned the next Monday with a hammer.

"I smashed a keyboard, knocked over a monitor ... and I went to hit the telephone," Shaw said. "I figured, 'Hey, my telephone is screwed up, so is yours.'"

Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company, disputes Shaw's version of its customer service record and calls Shaw's hammer fit on Aug. 20 an "inappropriate situation."

"Nothing justifies this sort of dangerous behavior," Comcast spokeswoman Beth Bacha said.

Police arrested Shaw for disorderly conduct. She received a three-month suspended sentence, was fined $345 and and is barred from going near the Comcast offices for a year.

The Shaws did eventually get phone and television service with Verizon and DirecTV.

She said many people have called her a hero. "But no, I'm just an old lady who got mad. I had a hissy fit," she said.

(This version CORRECTS that the Shaws went to Manassas office later the same day service was cut off.)


2007-10-19, 10:49 PM
Tips in this thread: http://www.thetradersden.org/forums/showthread.php?t=45154

I just tried doing the wipfw thing, and it completely fucked up my internet connection. I had to use System Restore on Windows to get things back to normal.

2007-10-21, 07:32 AM
I have comcast and it has been crippling my seeding. I can't seed a torrent unless i'm is still downloading it. This has been going on for about 3 weeks now. my share ratios are dropping and I'm going to be banned from some sites for this.

2007-10-21, 07:34 AM
I've heard that a lot of people in America have no option but to use Comcast? Is this true? It just seems strange, because in technologically backward ol' Britain we have at least four major ISPs in any area offering good service and pricing.

2007-10-21, 08:59 AM
I'm right there with you. I've thought for quite a while now that my uploading was extremely slow even though I know I have everything set correctly with my setup.


And this is why every new torrent I post is going to have a slow upload time. This sucks!

Jay in TN
2007-10-21, 09:18 AM
I've heard that a lot of people in America have no option but to use Comcast? Is this true?

True where I live. Moved here in 2005, had NO Internet option, so I was forced to get DirecWay satellite Internet. Sucked ass. Fortunately, Sprint/Embarq started offering DSL here earlier this year. Got it, love it. Currently uploads around 80K, and on a good day I download 330K at times.

Last place I lived, also had just one choice -- Comcast. Got it, loved it. 300+K download speed, and I forget the exact upload speed, over 100 usually is what I remember.

So, I haven't had more than one Internet option since 2001, at two different locations.

BOY does DirecWay suck. 107K max download, uploads generally in the teens ... and 200 MB max downloading per 24 hours! What dicks.


2007-10-21, 10:09 AM
People are successfully seeding even though they have Comcast. I've helped a few turn on encryption and it has worked for them. Maybe it doesn't work for all Comcast users, but it is working for some.

2007-10-21, 10:16 AM
I live in the mountains and have very little choice. In 1994 I installed ISDN, in 2000 I had DirectWay, which was an improvement (except when it rained), two years ago we finally had Comcast connected on our street and I jumped on it. I'm more than 10,000 feet past the cut-off for DSL, and my property line is at the boarder of At&t and Verizon, I'm on the Verizon side. Verizon offers broadband but having had no other choice other than Verizon for the past 15 years I switched my phone to Vonage and only have a fax line with Verizon. At&t said if I wanted them to cross the dividing line it would cost me $3K for a T1. So for now it's Comcast.

Speed test results:
ul 652 kb's
dl 14403 kb's

Comcast (3Mb service), (4 computers plus VOip), Linksys wireless router w/wireless Ethernet 100 Mbps, Cat in the Red Hat for Sandvine work around.

I'm using Azureus and the settings are at 112kb upload limit and 433kb download limit, but my speeds seem to hover around 40kb - 50kb up and 90kb-100kb down. Is there a tweak to increase?

2007-10-21, 10:22 AM
Why are you putting anything for your limit? I leave mine on unlimited whenever I am not on the computer. And, don't forget that your speeds are ultimately dependent on other people's speeds and what they can give you. Make sure you aren't firewalled (I can't remember if you are) and connected to a bunch of users and that is really all you can do.

2007-10-21, 10:56 AM
Why are you putting anything for your limit? I leave mine on unlimited whenever I am not on the computer. And, don't forget that your speeds are ultimately dependent on other people's speeds and what they can give you. Make sure you aren't firewalled (I can't remember if you are) and connected to a bunch of users and that is really all you can do.
I keep my upload limit to about 75% of the maximum. If I put it much higher then it becomes impossible for anyone to surf the internet at decent speeds.

2007-10-23, 04:09 AM
So I'm not really joking when I refer to my isp and cable tv provider as: