Is Comcast discriminating against BitTorrent?

by on October 20, 2007 · 0 comments

The AP reports today the results of an investigation it conducted on Comcast’s “traffic shaping” practices as they relate to BitTorrent. The bottom line, if the AP is correct, is that Comcast interferes with packets coming from both ends of a BitTorrent communication. Comcast allegedly inserts messages pretending to be one or the other end requesting that the transmission be reset. Susan Crawford has a technical explanation on her blog.

If this is a consistent policy, this is much worse than the meaningless one-off snafus such as Madison River, Pearl Jam, or NARAL. While this is technically legal, and should always be, it’s a bit indefensible. No doubt Comcast and every other access provider should have the ability to manage their networks to ensure that a minority of users doesn’t slow down or increase costs for the majority. However, they should be transparent about what they do.

As the AP reports it (and I’m really looking forward to clarification), “Comcast’s technology kicks in, though not consistently, when one BitTorrent user attempts to share a complete file with another user.” If that means any BitTorrent user, even if they’re not a heavy user, then the policy seems over-broad to me. In its acceptable use policy,1 Comcast reserves the right to take any measures it deems necessary to deal with subscribers who use too much bandwidth (although how much is too much is not clearly defined). But if the AP is right, this is targeting a specific application, not specific users.

What this all points out to me, however, is that we don’t need regulation prohibiting these kinds of network management practices. The problem is not the practice, but the lack of disclosure, and as Google’s Andrew McLaughlin has said, it’s more of an FTC issue than an FCC one. The other issue this brings up is Adam’s favorite: Why not just have a Ramsey two-part tariff style metering after instead of interfering with legitimate applications?

  1. See the relevant portions of the acceptable use policy here.

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