Hijacking the Internet

by on July 31, 2008 · 27 comments

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin received a reprimand from the Republican Leader of the House of Representatives, John A. Boehner, based upon reports that Martin plans to side with the commission’s two Democrats on Friday to interfere with the network management decisions of broadband providers in the matter of Comcast delaying the uploading of P2P file sharing when necessary to relieve network congestion:

When a small minority of subscribers – often using these applications to share pirated music and movies – began clogging the networks to the harm of the large majority of users, broadband providers began taking steps to alleviate the congestion. This, in turn, has prompted peer-to-peer developers to collaborate with broadband providers to find better ways to manage traffic.  It is this market-based self-governing nature of the Internet that is the key to its success.  Your heavy-handed attempts to inject the FCC into the middle of that process threaten to hijack the evolution of the Internet to everyone’s detriment.  It will also deter the very broadband investment we need for the Internet to continue growing to meet the increasing demands being placed upon it.

Comcast has already adjusted its policy based upon public reaction and perhaps the threat of regulation.  The question is whether this incident needs to be enshrined in permanent regulation or whether it indicates that the market actually works to protect legitimate consumer interests in the absence of reglation.  I think it’s the latter.

For the FCC commissioners, this is a choice between good politics and good policy.  Good politics would be to hammer Comcast, although that wouldn’t buy popularity for the Bush administration or any of its appointees.  Their enemies are their enemies.  Good policy would be to declare that this matter has been resolved.  Ultimately, appointees of the Bush administration will be judged on their policies, not their politics.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Any shred of hope that the Commission has legal authority spank Comcast over the BitTorrent strangling is pretty well blown up by the excellent comment filed by Helgi Walker for Comcast. It’s really a marvelous piece of work, in my non-expert opinion.

    But the FCC can’t just say “nothing to see here, move along” after all those public spectacles; they want to thing that the people are thirsty for blood.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Any shred of hope that the Commission has legal authority spank Comcast over the BitTorrent strangling is pretty well blown up by the excellent comment filed by Helgi Walker for Comcast. It’s really a marvelous piece of work, in my non-expert opinion.

    But the FCC can’t just say “nothing to see here, move along” after all those public spectacles; they want to thing that the people are thirsty for blood.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Martin appeared on CNBC this morning (8/1/2008) and made a very good point that companies are not entitled to arbitrarily decide whether a customers packets should or should not be transmitted.

    Hance: You wrote “The question is whether this incident needs to be enshrined in permanent regulation or whether it indicates that the market actually works to protect legitimate consumer interests in the absence of regulation. I think it’s the latter.” I would agree with you with one caveat. Companies have NOT making a commitment not to utilize bad behavior. So we end up with an endless cycle of consumers uncovering abuse, the companies apologizing for the “misunderstanding”, and with each uncovered incident simply coming up with a new scheme to defraud the consumer.

    While this has nothing to do with technology, this points to how corporations silently degrade their products. Shoppers beware: Products shrink but prices stay the same

    In theory, regulations would provide guidelines on what would be acceptable behavior. I will even be the first to admit that regulations are far from perfect because they can easily be circumvented. However, if you don’t want regulations, why are companies unwilling to commit to a code of conduct that would would make their operations transparent so the consumer really knows what they are getting?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Regulations are fine, but this case is about regulation without regulations.

    If the FCC were to have the authority to regulate broadband Internet access, fine, they can publish the rules and businesses can plan accordingly. But as they have not published any rules, any enforcement action is inappropriate, to say the least.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Martin appeared on CNBC this morning (8/1/2008) and made a very good point that companies are not entitled to arbitrarily decide whether a customers packets should or should not be transmitted.

    Hance: You wrote “The question is whether this incident needs to be enshrined in permanent regulation or whether it indicates that the market actually works to protect legitimate consumer interests in the absence of regulation. I think it’s the latter.” I would agree with you with one caveat. Companies have NOT making a commitment not to utilize bad behavior. So we end up with an endless cycle of consumers uncovering abuse, the companies apologizing for the “misunderstanding”, and with each uncovered incident simply coming up with a new scheme to defraud the consumer.

    While this has nothing to do with technology, this points to how corporations silently degrade their products. Shoppers beware: Products shrink but prices stay the same

    In theory, regulations would provide guidelines on what would be acceptable behavior. I will even be the first to admit that regulations are far from perfect because they can easily be circumvented. However, if you don’t want regulations, why are companies unwilling to commit to a code of conduct that would would make their operations transparent so the consumer really knows what they are getting?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Regulations are fine, but this case is about regulation without regulations.

    If the FCC were to have the authority to regulate broadband Internet access, fine, they can publish the rules and businesses can plan accordingly. But as they have not published any rules, any enforcement action is inappropriate, to say the least.

  • Hance Haney

    “this points to how corporations silently degrade their products. Shoppers beware: Products shrink but prices stay the same”

    Steve- I agree that corporations silently degrade their products and I submit that it is unfortunately pervasive. They invest in their brand, develop a reputation for quality and reliability, acquire customer loyalty and then they silently harvest these assets. I used to be a fan of Sony products except the last Sony television and Sony laptop I purchased completely failed to live up to my expectations for reliability. I suspect some talentless managers somewhere pursued a deliberate strategy of cashing in my Sony loyalty. And although I will never spend another dollar on a Sony product as long as I live, I find that even when I now buy a vacuum cleaner it is on the same 3-year obsolescence cycle that we’ve grown to expect of computers. So there are some managers who think they can train us to view durables like computers.

    I would like to learn a lot more about marketing, because my perception — that it cynically seeks to exploit consumers’ insecurities, lagging perceptions and whatnot — may not be entirely accurate.

    I would like to point out that sometimes silent degradation may have some pro-consumer value. For example, many years ago I was talking to a DSL product manager about connection speeds and I learned that, at least at that time, everyone who subscribed to the DSL product got the same connection speed and the customers who wanted to pay less for a slower speed had to be throttled so they would “get what they pay for.” I was initially shocked, because it seemed to me that the customers who paid less actually got a product which cost more since the trottling was like an added feature, until I realized that this arrangement had one benefit: The premium customers could help subsidize the economy customers.

    I came across this column a while back which articulates this far better than I can:

    “As economists use the term, price discrimination means charging some buyers more than others for essentially the same product or service. Is it a bad thing? Buyers paying the higher prices understandably resent the practice. They might thus be surprised to learn that it often enables them to enjoy both lower prices and higher quality than would be possible if sellers charged the same price to everyone. Even more surprising, price discrimination often metes out rough justice among buyers, requiring those who are responsible for a greater share of sellers’ costs to shoulder a greater share of the burden.”

    But I want to set this aside and agree that I hate silent degradation as much as anyone. But what are we going to do about it? As you point out, regulations can be circumvented. They also lead to unintended consequences such as inhibiting innovation.

    To say that we have to regulate it because what is the alternative(?) is to apply what has been termed “politician’s logic” (i.e., we must do something, this is something, therefore we must do it).

    I submit that we put far too much faith in regulation and overlook that ultimately consumers have to take some responsibility for educating themselves and carefully choosing whom to do business with.

  • http://www.techliberation.com hhaney

    “this points to how corporations silently degrade their products. Shoppers beware: Products shrink but prices stay the same”

    Steve- I agree that corporations silently degrade their products and I submit that it is unfortunately pervasive. They invest in their brand, develop a reputation for quality and reliability, acquire customer loyalty and then they silently harvest these assets. I used to be a fan of Sony products except the last Sony television and Sony laptop I purchased completely failed to live up to my expectations for reliability. I suspect some talentless managers somewhere pursued a deliberate strategy of cashing in my Sony loyalty. And although I will never spend another dollar on a Sony product as long as I live, I find that even when I now buy a vacuum cleaner it is on the same 3-year obsolescence cycle that we’ve grown to expect of computers. So there are some managers who think they can train us to view durables like computers.

    I would like to learn a lot more about marketing, because my perception — that it cynically seeks to exploit consumers’ insecurities, lagging perceptions and whatnot — may not be entirely accurate.

    I would like to point out that sometimes silent degradation may have some pro-consumer value. For example, many years ago I was talking to a DSL product manager about connection speeds and I learned that, at least at that time, everyone who subscribed to the DSL product got the same connection speed and the customers who wanted to pay less for a slower speed had to be throttled so they would “get what they pay for.” I was initially shocked, because it seemed to me that the customers who paid less actually got a product which cost more since the trottling was like an added feature, until I realized that this arrangement had one benefit: The premium customers could help subsidize the economy customers.

    I came across this column a while back which articulates this far better than I can:

    “As economists use the term, price discrimination means charging some buyers more than others for essentially the same product or service. Is it a bad thing? Buyers paying the higher prices understandably resent the practice. They might thus be surprised to learn that it often enables them to enjoy both lower prices and higher quality than would be possible if sellers charged the same price to everyone. Even more surprising, price discrimination often metes out rough justice among buyers, requiring those who are responsible for a greater share of sellers’ costs to shoulder a greater share of the burden.”

    But I want to set this aside and agree that I hate silent degradation as much as anyone. But what are we going to do about it? As you point out, regulations can be circumvented. They also lead to unintended consequences such as inhibiting innovation.

    To say that we have to regulate it because what is the alternative(?) is to apply what has been termed “politician’s logic” (i.e., we must do something, this is something, therefore we must do it).

    I submit that we put far too much faith in regulation and overlook that ultimately consumers have to take some responsibility for educating themselves and carefully choosing whom to do business with.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    When a small minority of subscribers – often using these applications to share pirated music and movies – began clogging the networks to the harm of the large majority of users, broadband providers began taking steps to alleviate the congestion.

    This isn’t really true though. The protocol that Comcast targeted (bit-torrent) does not in fact ‘clog the networks’ nearly as much as streaming video does. But don’t take my word for it–here is AT&T’s experience:

    “AT&T’s new chief technical officer, John Donovan, wants you to know that his company does not, under any circumstances, slow down BitTorrent users or throw other monkey wrenches in the operation of specific applications.
    ….
    For instance, he said, BitTorrent on the company’s network peaks around 4 a.m., when other traffic is at an ebb.

    Is there any reason why Comcasts users should be different than AT&T’s users? I doubt it.

    Of course Richard Bennett will likely point put the different technical characteristics of AT&T’s network and Comcasts–but he still has to explain why bit-torrent rather than streaming video would be more of a burden.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    The link for the above mentioned article (spam filters wouldn’t let me post the comment above with the link):

    http://blog.wired.com/business/2008/06/att-embraces-bi.html

  • Japhet

    eee eff… Where does Donovan say anything about streaming sucking up more bandwidth than p2p. I’m not saying he didn’t say it, or that it’s not true (I don’t know), but it’s not in your quote or paraphrase above.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Hance:

    In an earlier posts I had noted the Comcast was not throttling bit-torrent, but blocking it completely, irrespective of the network load.

    You had asked me for the source of that information.

    There are numerous comments on slashdot on this issue, but quite a few seem to point to the following article which described some testing done on Comcast’s network:

    Most ISPs simply limit the available bandwidth for BitTorrent traffic, but Comcast takes it one step further, and prevents their customers from seeding. And Comcast is not alone in this, Canadian ISPs Cogeco and Rogers use similar methods on a smaller scale.
    Unfortunately, these more aggressive throttling methods can’t be circumvented by simply enabling encryption in your BitTorrent client. It is reported that Comcast is using an application from Sandvine to throttle BitTorrent traffic. Sandvine breaks every (seed) connection with new peers after a few seconds if it’s not a Comcast user. This makes it virtually impossible to seed a file, especially in small swarms without any Comcast users. Some users report that they can still connect to a few peers, but most of the Comcast customers see a significant drop in their upload speed.
    The throttling works like this: A few seconds after you connect to someone in the swarm the Sandvine application sends a peer reset message (RST flag) and the upload immediately stops. Most vulnerable are users in a relatively small swarm where you only have a couple of peers you can upload the file to. Only seeding seems to be prevented, most users are able to upload to others while the download is still going, but once the download is finished, the upload speed drops to 0. Some users also report a significant drop in their download speeds, but this seems to be less widespread. Worse on private trackers, likely that this is because of the smaller swarm size.

    http://torrentfreak.com/comcast-throttles-bittorrent-traffic-seeding-impossible/

    Also, there’s this article over at public knowledge, which aligns with what AT&T’s CTO said above:

    And as we all know, despite the industry’s constant invocation of the P2P bogeyman, at present, the largest bandwidth hog is actually streaming video. Clearly, the emergence of online video is something that cable video providers find very threatening and by capping off bandwidth usage, they’re effectively killing two birds with one stone; discouraging users from using their Internet connections for video while increasing the efficiency of the network.

    http://www.publicknowledge.org/node/1598

    And then there’s also 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

    Japhet: Donovan doesn’t use the words steaming video; the best source on this is:

    And as we all know, despite the industry’s constant invocation of the P2P bogeyman, at present, the largest bandwidth hog is actually streaming video. Clearly, the emergence of online video is something that cable video providers find very threatening and by capping off bandwidth usage, they’re effectively killing two birds with one stone; discouraging users from using their Internet connections for video while increasing the efficiency of the network.

    See:
    http://www.publicknowledge.org/node/1598

    (My apologies for breaking up my posts, but TLF has some kind of spam filter, and if there are links in a comment, the comment goes into moderation, often never to appear…Also, there are many links in the Public Knowledge article.)

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    When a small minority of subscribers – often using these applications to share pirated music and movies – began clogging the networks to the harm of the large majority of users, broadband providers began taking steps to alleviate the congestion.

    This isn’t really true though. The protocol that Comcast targeted (bit-torrent) does not in fact ‘clog the networks’ nearly as much as streaming video does. But don’t take my word for it–here is AT&T’s experience:

    “AT&T’s new chief technical officer, John Donovan, wants you to know that his company does not, under any circumstances, slow down BitTorrent users or throw other monkey wrenches in the operation of specific applications.
    ….
    For instance, he said, BitTorrent on the company’s network peaks around 4 a.m., when other traffic is at an ebb.

    Is there any reason why Comcasts users should be different than AT&T’s users? I doubt it.

    Of course Richard Bennett will likely point put the different technical characteristics of AT&T’s network and Comcasts–but he still has to explain why bit-torrent rather than streaming video would be more of a burden.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    The link for the above mentioned article (spam filters wouldn’t let me post the comment above with the link):

    http://blog.wired.com/business/2008/06/att-embr

  • Japhet

    eee eff… Where does Donovan say anything about streaming sucking up more bandwidth than p2p. I’m not saying he didn’t say it, or that it’s not true (I don’t know), but it’s not in your quote or paraphrase above.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Hance:

    In an earlier posts I had noted the Comcast was not throttling bit-torrent, but blocking it completely, irrespective of the network load.

    You had asked me for the source of that information.

    There are numerous comments on slashdot on this issue, but quite a few seem to point to the following article which described some testing done on Comcast’s network:

    Most ISPs simply limit the available bandwidth for BitTorrent traffic, but Comcast takes it one step further, and prevents their customers from seeding. And Comcast is not alone in this, Canadian ISPs Cogeco and Rogers use similar methods on a smaller scale.
    Unfortunately, these more aggressive throttling methods can’t be circumvented by simply enabling encryption in your BitTorrent client. It is reported that Comcast is using an application from Sandvine to throttle BitTorrent traffic. Sandvine breaks every (seed) connection with new peers after a few seconds if it’s not a Comcast user. This makes it virtually impossible to seed a file, especially in small swarms without any Comcast users. Some users report that they can still connect to a few peers, but most of the Comcast customers see a significant drop in their upload speed.
    The throttling works like this: A few seconds after you connect to someone in the swarm the Sandvine application sends a peer reset message (RST flag) and the upload immediately stops. Most vulnerable are users in a relatively small swarm where you only have a couple of peers you can upload the file to. Only seeding seems to be prevented, most users are able to upload to others while the download is still going, but once the download is finished, the upload speed drops to 0. Some users also report a significant drop in their download speeds, but this seems to be less widespread. Worse on private trackers, likely that this is because of the smaller swarm size.

    http://torrentfreak.com/comcast-throttles-bitto

    Also, there’s this article over at public knowledge, which aligns with what AT&T’s CTO said above:

    And as we all know, despite the industry’s constant invocation of the P2P bogeyman, at present, the largest bandwidth hog is actually streaming video. Clearly, the emergence of online video is something that cable video providers find very threatening and by capping off bandwidth usage, they’re effectively killing two birds with one stone; discouraging users from using their Internet connections for video while increasing the efficiency of the network.

    http://www.publicknowledge.org/node/1598

    And then there’s also 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

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Japhet: Donovan doesn’t use the words steaming video; the best source on this is:

    And as we all know, despite the industry’s constant invocation of the P2P bogeyman, at present, the largest bandwidth hog is actually streaming video. Clearly, the emergence of online video is something that cable video providers find very threatening and by capping off bandwidth usage, they’re effectively killing two birds with one stone; discouraging users from using their Internet connections for video while increasing the efficiency of the network.

    See:
    http://www.publicknowledge.org/node/1598

    (My apologies for breaking up my posts, but TLF has some kind of spam filter, and if there are links in a comment, the comment goes into moderation, often never to appear…Also, there are many links in the Public Knowledge article.)

  • http://www.brettglass.com/FCC/remarks.html Brett Glass

    OK, this is somewhat of a network techie/geeky thing, but you can hog the network even if your bandwidth is capped to the same rate as another user. This is due to a flaw in TCP, which does very weak, per-flow congestion avoidance. Suppose one user is running a single download at X bits per second. A second has 100 streams going, each with 1/100th of the bandwidth (or X/100). Which one gets priority if the network gets congested? The second — by a factor of 100! BitTorrent, which is used for downloads that are not time critical, seizes priority over other traffic such as VoIP, which really needs real time performance. What’s more, the streams for which it seizes priority use large packets because they are downloads. The large packets, in turn, create jitter, which really messes up VoIP. The same is true for gaming. So, ISPs are doing the right thing when they throttle BitTorrent and keep it from opening up too many streams. And if they recognize that the thing that’s hogging the bandwidth is BitTorrent, they can do so gracefully.
    They can undo the attempt to seize priority and mete out the bandwidth appropriately. If they are forced to be “protocol agnostic” (the word “agnostic” means “without knowledge;” in other words, their bandwidth limiter is not able to recognize exactly what’s causing the problem), they can’t use a strategy that’s carefully tailored to the problem. So, the networking management can’t be as good, and all users suffer. That’s what the Sandvine appliance does. It “prunes” the number of streams started by BitTorrent down to a manageable level. It doesn’t stop it altogether, but it keeps it from interfering with others by exploiting a vulnerability in the protocol.

  • http://www.brettglass.com/FCC/remarks.html Brett Glass

    OK, this is somewhat of a network techie/geeky thing, but you can hog the network even if your bandwidth is capped to the same rate as another user. This is due to a flaw in TCP, which does very weak, per-flow congestion avoidance. Suppose one user is running a single download at X bits per second. A second has 100 streams going, each with 1/100th of the bandwidth (or X/100). Which one gets priority if the network gets congested? The second — by a factor of 100! BitTorrent, which is used for downloads that are not time critical, seizes priority over other traffic such as VoIP, which really needs real time performance. What’s more, the streams for which it seizes priority use large packets because they are downloads. The large packets, in turn, create jitter, which really messes up VoIP. The same is true for gaming. So, ISPs are doing the right thing when they throttle BitTorrent and keep it from opening up too many streams. And if they recognize that the thing that’s hogging the bandwidth is BitTorrent, they can do so gracefully.
    They can undo the attempt to seize priority and mete out the bandwidth appropriately. If they are forced to be “protocol agnostic” (the word “agnostic” means “without knowledge;” in other words, their bandwidth limiter is not able to recognize exactly what’s causing the problem), they can’t use a strategy that’s carefully tailored to the problem. So, the networking management can’t be as good, and all users suffer. That’s what the Sandvine appliance does. It “prunes” the number of streams started by BitTorrent down to a manageable level. It doesn’t stop it altogether, but it keeps it from interfering with others by exploiting a vulnerability in the protocol.

  • Pingback: best link building services

  • Pingback: boucle d'oreille homme

  • Pingback: 1300 numbers australia cost

  • Pingback: fantasy football

  • Pingback: Jurk Online

  • Pingback: Wake up now

  • Pingback: yeast infection treatments

Previous post:

Next post: