Tarring and Feathering Comcast

by on July 28, 2008 · 14 comments

The Federal Communications Commission, according to the Wall Street Journal, is prepared to stop Comcast from blocking peer-to-peer file sharing later this week — although the commission won’t fine the company because it wasn’t “previously clear what the agency’s rules were.”

Now, according to Multichannel News, comes word that there is a wireless broadband provider who explicitly prohibits all uses that may cause extreme network capacity issues, and “explicitly identif[ies] P2P file sharing applications as such a use.” 

I am not familiar with the wireless broadband provider’s practices in this area (nor even of its relevant terms of service, even though I am a customer).  However, Comcast delayed file sharing only when necessary to relieve network congestion.  Absent congestion, Comcast permitted file sharing.  A cable broadband network typically experiences congestion during the early evening hours. Which means that if file sharers were willing to avoid those hours they could share files on the Comcast network the rest of the time.  

So it will be interesting whether the FCC bans network management which prohibits file sharing, in which case cable and wireless networks could become congested to the annoyance of millions of ordinary users.  Or whether it allows broadband providers to practice network management so long as they clearly disclose it, in which case file sharers may discover they can’t use a broadband wireless or cable connection to share files, ever. Or maybe the brilliant politicians at the commission will require disclosure in sufficient detail to enable hackers to defeat network management altogether, permitting congestion to reign but ensuring that providers, not the commission, will be blamed.

As everyone who reads this blog knows, the architecture of cable, wireless and wireline networks is completely different.  Each have unique congestion challenges, and in the short term all providers must have flexibility to find appropriate solutions.  

The key point is that all broadband providers are trying to increase bandwidth as fast as they can.  The proper role for the commission is to eliminate barriers to investment, of which regulatory uncertainty is one of the most significant.

If a particular company, Comcast, is the target here primarily because it refused to pay certain political dues or tribute, as I suspect it is, we should acknowledge that and take the company’s side.

  • http://CoreInnovationneedsboost Mike Wendy

    Agreed with Hance.

    I’d say that we need to better support “core innovation” (in this case – the outlay of more fiber or other b-band facilities), shearing it away from the political stuff happening in Congress and at the Commission. It works with Lessig’s (et al) “innovation at the edges” concept in that you don’t get edgy innovation unless you have core innovation, too. In other words, you can’t separate the two.

  • Mike Wendy

    Agreed with Hance.

    I’d say that we need to better support “core innovation” (in this case – the outlay of more fiber or other b-band facilities), shearing it away from the political stuff happening in Congress and at the Commission. It works with Lessig’s (et al) “innovation at the edges” concept in that you don’t get edgy innovation unless you have core innovation, too. In other words, you can’t separate the two.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ eee_eff

    However, Comcast delayed file sharing only when necessary to relieve network congestion. Absent congestion, Comcast permitted file sharing.

    Hance:

    That’s not even close to being true, and, as someone who writes about this issue, you actually have a duty to ascertain some of the most relevant facts before writing about it…

    Comcast was stopping any uploading of data using bit-torrent no matter how small for several weeks

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ eee_eff

    However, Comcast delayed file sharing only when necessary to relieve network congestion. Absent congestion, Comcast permitted file sharing.

    Hance:

    That’s not even close to being true, and, as someone who writes about this issue, you actually have a duty to ascertain some of the most relevant facts before writing about it…

    Comcast was stopping any uploading of data using bit-torrent no matter how small for several weeks

  • Hance Haney

    “Comcast was stopping any uploading of data using bit-torrent no matter how small for several weeks”

    That’s not my understanding. Can you cite some evidence (if I am mistaken I would like to know)?

    Meanwhile, Comcast says something different:

    Comcast has explained that its current network management practices are triggered by certain threshold levels of P2P protocol use that could, if unchecked, lead to harmful network congestion. Specifically, Comcast’s current P2P management is triggered when the number of P2P uploads in a given area for a particular P2P protocol reaches a certain, pre-determined level, regardless of the level of overall network traffic at that time, and regardless of the time of day when the applicable P2P protocol threshold is reached.

    The same comments from Comcast suggest that it isn’t necessary for the company to block all P2P traffic and that half of all the upstream traffic on the Comcast network is P2P:

    Data collected recently from the Comcast network demonstrate that Comcast’s network management practices are minimally intrusive. Comcast has never managed customers’ downloads, and the data show that, even with the current management of P2P uploads, P2P
    traffic continues to comprise approximately half of upstream traffic transmitted on the Comcast network — and, in some locations, P2P traffic is as much as two-thirds of total upstream bandwidth. The data also show that, on a typical day, an estimated 9 billion P2P TCP flows traverse Comcast’s network, and, even for the most heavily used P2P protocols, more than 90
    percent of these flows are unaffected by Comcast’s network management. Given the vast amounts of P2P traffic carried on Comcast’s network, and the small percentage of total uploads that are delayed, it is clear that Comcast’s customers are able to (and do) use any application or service they choose, including those that utilize P2P protocols. [footnote omitted]

    The data also suggest that, even in a cable system with heavy P2P usage, when a P2P upload from a particular computer was delayed by a reset packet, that same computer successfully initiated a P2P upload within one minute in 80 percent of the cases. In fact, most
    Comcast customers using P2P protocols to upload never experienced any delay at all. Thus, even when a subscriber’s computer encounters a so-called “busy” signal when it attempts to upload a file, the busy condition generally causes only brief delays before that computer is able to effectuate its next upload. In other words, as Comcast has consistently maintained, this current network management technique delays a relatively small number of P2P uploads and only delays them temporarily.

    Note: I revised this comment and apologize if this confuses anyone. In the first version of this comment I wrongly concluded that the high volume of P2P traffic on the Comcast network suggests that even if Comcast attempted to stop any uploading of data using BitTorrent, as the previous commenter says it did, they probably couldn’t have succeeded. I realize that conclusion does not necessarily follow. It goes to show I am not an engineer. I do think the volume of P2P on the Comcast network is nevertheless relevant because it infers that Comcast had no motive to block all BiTorrent uploads.

  • http://www.techliberation.com hhaney

    “Comcast was stopping any uploading of data using bit-torrent no matter how small for several weeks”

    That’s not my understanding. Can you cite some evidence (if I am mistaken I would like to know)?

    Meanwhile, Comcast says something different:

    Comcast has explained that its current network management practices are triggered by certain threshold levels of P2P protocol use that could, if unchecked, lead to harmful network congestion. Specifically, Comcast’s current P2P management is triggered when the number of P2P uploads in a given area for a particular P2P protocol reaches a certain, pre-determined level, regardless of the level of overall network traffic at that time, and regardless of the time of day when the applicable P2P protocol threshold is reached.

    The same comments from Comcast suggest that it isn’t necessary for the company to block all P2P traffic and that half of all the upstream traffic on the Comcast network is P2P:

    Data collected recently from the Comcast network demonstrate that Comcast’s network management practices are minimally intrusive. Comcast has never managed customers’ downloads, and the data show that, even with the current management of P2P uploads, P2P
    traffic continues to comprise approximately half of upstream traffic transmitted on the Comcast network — and, in some locations, P2P traffic is as much as two-thirds of total upstream bandwidth. The data also show that, on a typical day, an estimated 9 billion P2P TCP flows traverse Comcast’s network, and, even for the most heavily used P2P protocols, more than 90
    percent of these flows are unaffected by Comcast’s network management. Given the vast amounts of P2P traffic carried on Comcast’s network, and the small percentage of total uploads that are delayed, it is clear that Comcast’s customers are able to (and do) use any application or service they choose, including those that utilize P2P protocols. [footnote omitted]

    The data also suggest that, even in a cable system with heavy P2P usage, when a P2P upload from a particular computer was delayed by a reset packet, that same computer successfully initiated a P2P upload within one minute in 80 percent of the cases. In fact, most
    Comcast customers using P2P protocols to upload never experienced any delay at all. Thus, even when a subscriber’s computer encounters a so-called “busy” signal when it attempts to upload a file, the busy condition generally causes only brief delays before that computer is able to effectuate its next upload. In other words, as Comcast has consistently maintained, this current network management technique delays a relatively small number of P2P uploads and only delays them temporarily.

    Note: I revised this comment and apologize if this confuses anyone. In the first version of this comment I wrongly concluded that the high volume of P2P traffic on the Comcast network suggests that even if Comcast attempted to stop any uploading of data using BitTorrent, as the previous commenter says it did, they probably couldn’t have succeeded. I realize that conclusion does not necessarily follow. It goes to show I am not an engineer. I do think the volume of P2P on the Comcast network is nevertheless relevant because it infers that Comcast had no motive to block all BiTorrent uploads.

  • Demus

    Consumers are joining together to tell Comcast they deserve better.

    The Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide (MAADD) is one of the group’s involved in the http://www.badcable.org effort because once again, Comcast has been rated the worst in customer satisfaction by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Despite the bad customer service, between 2001 and 2006, Comcast’s standard cable rates increased in Chicago by more than 30%. This is nearly 10 times the annual rate of inflation!

    Illinois consumers must unite to demand better service and affordable rates from Comcast!

    Visit http://www.badcable.org and join the thousands of Illinois consumers who have signed our petition demanding Comcast change its practices and provide quality service at reasonable rates.

    Rev. James L. Demus III
    Co-Director, Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide (MAADD

  • Demus

    Consumers are joining together to tell Comcast they deserve better.

    The Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide (MAADD) is one of the group’s involved in the http://www.badcable.org effort because once again, Comcast has been rated the worst in customer satisfaction by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Despite the bad customer service, between 2001 and 2006, Comcast’s standard cable rates increased in Chicago by more than 30%. This is nearly 10 times the annual rate of inflation!

    Illinois consumers must unite to demand better service and affordable rates from Comcast!

    Visit http://www.badcable.org and join the thousands of Illinois consumers who have signed our petition demanding Comcast change its practices and provide quality service at reasonable rates.

    Rev. James L. Demus III
    Co-Director, Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide (MAADD

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Hance:

    You had said:

    That’s not my understanding. Can you cite some evidence (if I am mistaken I would like to know)?

    I have seen several reports of test completed that show Comcasts blocking was not following network usage; the most convincing and data rich is this study, done by some folks over at the Max Planck Institute:

    IS BITTORRENT BLOCKED ONLY DURING PERIODS OF PEAK NETWORK CONGESTION?
    Recently it has been reported that Comcast defended its BitTorrent blocking before FCC as a necessary practice that is done only during periods of heavy network traffic. It is widely known that network traffic exhibits a strongly diurnal pattern. So we analyzed our data to see if hosts in Comcast and Cox networks see fewer of their upstream transfers blocked during early morning or weekends (when network load is generally low) than during other times of the day.
    The graphs below show (a) the number of measurements to Comcast hosts at different hours of the day and (b) the percentage of these measurements for which we observed BitTorrent blocking. The percentage of blocked connections remains high at all times of the day. Our data suggests that the BitTorrent blocking is independent of the time of the day.

    See: http://broadband.mpi-sws.mpg.de/transparency/results/

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Hance:

    You had said:

    That’s not my understanding. Can you cite some evidence (if I am mistaken I would like to know)?

    I have seen several reports of test completed that show Comcasts blocking was not following network usage; the most convincing and data rich is this study, done by some folks over at the Max Planck Institute:

    IS BITTORRENT BLOCKED ONLY DURING PERIODS OF PEAK NETWORK CONGESTION?
    Recently it has been reported that Comcast defended its BitTorrent blocking before FCC as a necessary practice that is done only during periods of heavy network traffic. It is widely known that network traffic exhibits a strongly diurnal pattern. So we analyzed our data to see if hosts in Comcast and Cox networks see fewer of their upstream transfers blocked during early morning or weekends (when network load is generally low) than during other times of the day.
    The graphs below show (a) the number of measurements to Comcast hosts at different hours of the day and (b) the percentage of these measurements for which we observed BitTorrent blocking. The percentage of blocked connections remains high at all times of the day. Our data suggests that the BitTorrent blocking is independent of the time of the day.

    See: http://broadband.mpi-sws.mpg.de/transparency/re

  • gargouri2001

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