Networking

Comcast declares war on BitTorrent


According to TorrentFreak, Comcast has decide to go one step further than the BitTorrent throttling that is increasingly practiced on most ISPs over the last two years.

In the last couple of weeks, more and more Comcast users have started to notice that their BitTorrent transfers were cut off. Other Comcast users reported a significant decrease in download speeds as well as an inability to see their downloads.

It appears that these new aggressive measures cannot be circumvented by merely enabling encryption in one's BitTorrent client. It is reported that an application from Sandvine has been utilized to throttle the BitTorrent traffic.

This brings into the forefront once again the perennial grouses between an ISP and its customers on just what kind of network utilization is "fair."

Below is an excerpt from the article at TorrentFreak.

From an ISP's perspective:

The fact is, P2P is (from ym point of view) a plague - a cancer, that will consume all the bandwidth that [the ISP] can provide. It's an insatiable appetite.

P2P applications can cripple a network, they're like leaches. Just because you pay 49.99 for a 1.5-3.0mbps connection doesn't mean you're entitled to use whatever protocols you wish on your ISP's network without them provisioning it to make the network experience good for all users involved.

From the user's perspective:

If you pay for an Internet connection, that's what you should get from your ISP - an Internet connection. Not a connection that will let you browse the Web and check e-mail, but little else.

Users finding themselves in a similar situation are advised by TorrentFreak to first enable their BitTorrent encryption, and if that fails, to set up a VPN connection.

Being an IT professional,  someone making a living somewhere between the ISP (the rock?) and the end user (the hard place?), what do you have to say about this whole affair? Also, what policies do you enforce pertaining to traffic on your local network?

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

38 comments
dave-richardson
dave-richardson

I understand and commend Comcast. Since Cable is a shared network the P2P software can slow the bandwidth for other to a crawl. I used to have a private cable internet and most every evening my speed would slow to a crawl. My upload speed was faster than my download speed. I called and complianed several times. How every if you are not guaranteed the maximum speed they advertise. Check your contract. So if they are throttling it so others can have faster speeds since they are not hogging the pipe.

dennisacton
dennisacton

The RTS game I play uses a P2P connection between players. I had a rock solid connection when I had Verizon Fios. I moved and now have a Comcast cable modem and my connection drops constantly (usually just as I'm about to win...yeah right) I wonder if this is a strategy they are using to dissuade users from playing online games?

retro77
retro77

This will just open the developers up to come up with another P2P client. Maybe one that can be hidden in TCP port 80 [http].

jdclyde
jdclyde

to whatever connection speed you have paid for. Does anyone else see a class action in the making here?

Joy Phillip
Joy Phillip

Well, I can certainly see and understand the point of the ISP. It does cut down on their bandwidth and it does eat into their ability to serve other users on the same network. However, a vast majority of their users probably don't use any P2P file sharing of any kind, much less torrents which are pretty harry to begin with (slow, bad connections, bad seeds and so on). I use BitTorrent myself to get episodes of anime I want to watch. I'm running out of space so that has cooled my desire to run out and get more. But, I want to know that when I request a file it will be available to me. That's part of the service they are providing. I think this is probably going to blow over again, but you never know. P2P has always been targeted since it bypasses the federal laws neatly, so users can't be prosecuted for sharing content. But I still think this is a stupid attitude for the company. All it will do is drive them to other services that allow BitTorrent. Which will end up costing Comcast (a bad ISP to begin with) money.

Absolutely
Absolutely

I pay for high-bandwidth access to minimize the time wasted waiting for pages to load, files to download. If my bandwidth is throttled, I'm not receiving the service owed to me, specified by my subscriber agreement. Porn & warez are not the only type of file that can be transferred more efficiently with BitTorrent than without it, but even if they were, an obligation exists to prove the illegality of any file transfer [u]before[/u] it is cut off. Sandvine's software is probably perfectly legitimate on large corporate, government & academic LANs, but Comcast does not own the traffic on its network. I paid for the service, and having read that they treat their customers this way, I'm switching.

ckpds
ckpds

I think comcast is correct in its actions if the volume of bittorrent traffic is affecting other users. This is especially important since a lot of what bittorrent is used for could be considered theft. I did some searches for bittorrent downloads and found all sorts of links to pirated games, music, office software and the like.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

with the other. If the BitTorrent has a legitimate business use, then you allow it. If you don't have the capacity to deal with it then there are several solutions. Your ISP throttling you, because it has essentially oversold it's bandwidth (not a new thing at all that), is a consumer issue. What are you paying for , and are you getting it? ComCast can do what they like as such, except keep their customers against their will. Edited due to the really stupid auto subject line.

paulmah
paulmah

What policies do you enforce pertaining to traffic on your local network?

Hurell.Lyons
Hurell.Lyons

Just a thought but who owns the company that owns comcast. If they are part a comglomerate that owns a movie studio or record company then their explanation as to why they are doing is a straight up lie. They are doing it because it makes it harder to get pirated software/multimedia. This doesn't surprise me at all. I use Bit torrent clients and i have noticed that my connection gets...overloaded for lack of a better term and it takes me forever to get everything back online, I have placed limitations on my upload/download speed to see if this will make a difference.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

emule does it now and it's a bitTorrent client as well.

tony
tony

If anyone starts a class action count me in. Comcast can burn in **** as far as I am concerned. This is just one more example of their I don't give a C**P about my customers attitude. If there is illegal activity then by all means stop it. If a customer exceeds the bandwidth that they contract for (Although this shouldn't happen if your network is properly provisioned) then throttle them down to what they have payed for. If your network simply can't handle the load you have sold, invest the money and get your net up to snuff. I was recently a Comcast customer (through the buyout of Adelphia). I religiously payed them $168 per month for CATV and Broadband (well above what I had paid Adelphia for the same service). Well one month my service is not working and when I call to report it. I am told that I have been suspended for excessive use. I ask the rep what is excessive. He informs me that each month Comcast compiles the list of their top 10% of users and from that list randomly select 1% who the suspend and notify. I am told that I will be restored but should this happen again within a 12 month period I will be terminated. When I ask the rep to give me a hard number of bytes not to exceed he can not. I inform him that I monitor my connection as networking is my job and if he gives me a limit I will not exceed it. He says there is no magic number you can not exceed. At this point I say fine and continue on my merry way. Several months later again my service is out and this time I am told that once again I have been tagged for excessive use and have been terminated. When I enquire as to my usage the rep gives me a number not in MB or GB but TB. I know that this is absolutely wrong and after doing some quick math it would be impossible for me to have downloaded this amount even if my connection ran 24/7 at the Max provisioned speed for 31 days straight. This rep did not even care to hear my argument and simply said you were warned, you have now been terminated and then hung up on me. I then call back and ask to speak to a supervisor. After providing my phone number I am told that a supervisor will not take a call on a termination. I advise this rep that I wish to speak to a supervisor about the last rep hanging up on me. Again I am told that a supervisor will not take a call about a termination. We go round for a few minutes at which point I politely end the call and call the CATV support number. After explaining my plight to this person he assures me that a supervisor will return my call by Monday as this is a weekend. Needless to say there was no return call. After waiting a week, I called Dish for TV and the local Telco for DSL. The day both were installed I terminated all service with Comcast. Then I get my final bill to find out that they are trying to charge me for failing to return my cable modem. A modem which was purchased by me. I call to find out what the **** is going on only to find out they had been charging me rental on a modem for over 2 years. I did finally convice this person that the modem was owned by me and the situation would be taken care of. I get my new final bill and they did remove the charge for not returning the modem but there was no credit for the 2 years of rental that they charged me (I think this is why they don't itemize bills). I call again and am told they will have to research the issue and I will get a call within 48 hours. Weeks have gone by and several more phone calls but still no resolution. At $5 per month rental for 24 months they owe me $120 my final bill is 63.26 so I have yet to pay them and should not have to as they actually owe me 56.74 Well now I'm getting collection notices and waisting lord knows how much of my time trying to resolve this issue. 56.74 may not seem like much to just be over and done with it but it's principle. I am not going to pay money I don't owe. As for their AU read it through there is nothing in there that would pohibit P2P so long as it is for legit use. There is no max dl number that they say you must not exceed. Their AU is full of generalities that basically allow them to over sell and under provide all the while laying any complaints at the customers feet. If an ISP who is selling a service to it's customers wishes to put limitations on those services they need to be spelled out very clearly so the customer can make in informed decision prior to contracting and also so that they have a well defined SL that the ISP must maintain or risk legal recourse. Just try terminating an employee for violating your corporate use policy if it isn't spelled out crystal clear, and that network service is not be purchased by the employee but rather provided by the company, explicitly for company use, at the expense of the company. Again I say Comcast can burn in **** and should anyone start a class action, sign me up.

dbixby
dbixby

I have tier 2 service from Comcast at $52.00 per month. It is supposed to be 8 Mgs. a second, but I'm lucky if I hit 3. Comcast can do whatever it likes, just like Microsoft because there is no competition. I'd switch in a minute if there were an alternative. It's a seller market, you can either like or lump it.

mdhealy
mdhealy

Many responses boiled down to, "the ISP can set whatever policies they like and if they get too customer-hostile then customers will take their business elsewhere." But for me Comcast is the ONLY viable option. I'm far enough from the nearest central office that my loop length was always borderline for DSL, and as the general level of electronic noise and crosstalk over that loop has increased the reliability of my DSL dropped to the point where I had no choice but switch to cable. For all its slowness, at least in the dialup era there were many choices available to me and therefore genuine competition. Now I have just two broadband pipes until maybe Real Soon Now there is a truly viable wireless competitor available to me. When I used DSL, I got my service through an ISP, and that made for a lot of finger pointing: it's the DSLAM (owned by the ISP), no it's the wire (owned by the telco), no it's your DSL modem (owned by me). Now I am renting my cable modem so in the event of trouble at least it will be clear Comcast and only Comcast is responsible.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Must be nice to live where you have a choice. My options include only TimeWarner for cable and only WindStream for DSL. As regards Paul's original question, we don't allow P2P at work, and I can't see any circumstances under which I would install a P2P client at home.

Inkling
Inkling

It doesn't, in my opinion, make them foolish though. The simple truth of the matter is, they don't care about you, me, or anyone like us who actually knows what this means. We are so vastly outnumbered by those that don't care and/or don't know, that us leaving doesn't affect the bottom line. I think it would be interesting to see what a judge would say about who owns the traffic. Again, I agree with you. However, I don't think I would hold my breath waiting for a consumer-friendly outcome to that trial.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

on that basis we should stop people copying stuff, get's used to duplicate illegal content far more than bitTorrent. Second, the ISP's business model relies on the principal that not all their customers will be using all the bandwidth they have paid for 24/7. P2P clients can break this model but this is not the customers fault. COMcast can deal with their lack of capacity in any way their customers will tolerate, that's all. Any time they take away customer A's bandwith and allocate it to customer B, they are ripping off A, to avoid looking like they have ripped off B. This is not a new scenario, back in the old days of dial up. An ISP would launch, and you'd get really good data rates. That got you recomended, that got you more customers, then 'all of a sudden' that speed went crap. The ISP used the money to invest in more kit, or they lost all their customers and went bust.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

While some bittorrent downloads are for pirated stuff, there are tons of legitimate uses. A prime example is the WoW patch downloaded uses bittorrent. What about when I need to share a large file from my machine to another over the internet? Bittorrent is the only real option that makes any sense.

Daniel.Muzrall
Daniel.Muzrall

I can completely understand why Comcast is blocking Torrents. In most cases, unless you specifically end the application and processes associated with it, P2P software will continue running, and consuming bandwidth. You get enough people with "idle" computers running P2P clients, it can add up to a whole lot of bandwidth pretty quickly. Add to that a significant portion (I'm not saying most, or all) of P2P traffic is of questionable origins (copyright/DRM issues), I again understand the block. Here's where I disagree with it: There are a significant number of legitimate uses for Torrents. There are a number of Linux distributions that the primary distribution vehicle is via Torrents. Then there are the legitimate large file transfers. Like I said, I can understand why Comcast is blocking Torrents. I can understand why people are upset about the blocking. Personally, I don't like the idea of an ISP blocking (or even throttling) any protocol or service on a connection I pay for. I guess everyone will have to be more careful about reading all the details on terms of service and in particular the fair access clauses. My 2 cents, take it for what it's worth.

retro77
retro77

So emule will pose as port 80 traffic but still able to pull down torrents over this?

jdclyde
jdclyde

I have found people are more responsive if you have your facts in line. Make sure you ask for their name and ID number, and let them know your writing this down. Include the time and date. That way, the next time you call, you can say you talked to XYZ on 12/12/07 and they hung up on you. The next rep will know you are keeping records, and will not want to be the one to be added to your list. If you don't have this information, the most you can do is cry on the next reps shoulder that you called before and someone hurt your feelings. No accountability on their part. Good luck with the DSL.

jdclyde
jdclyde

Have you checked into these other options? DSL is getting their speeds up there, depending on where you live. Speednet and others are also starting to cover more and more of Michigan, wireless right to your home/business. I have heard of people getting up to 10Mbps through them.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

It's the weather or sun spots or the coax in your area is old and needs to be replaced or there was a billing problem or...well...call Comcast and try their crappy helpdesk on for size.

paulmah
paulmah

What kind of filtering on the corporate LAN do you employ? I've been thinking of starting another topic to see just how 'invasive' do the various folks go in filtering as well (I'm thinking of HTTP etc)

Absolutely
Absolutely

I have a couple options. University town, y'know. As long as we're stuck with government regulation of ISP's, shouldn't they be regulated more like telecoms? And since the Internet is global, shouldn't competition be as open as it is for [b]long-distance[/b] telephone service? Taxpayers own the wires, and corporations sell only "connectivity", aka bandwidth. After all, the wires are just strands of metal. I can make a copper wire by holding a penny between a Dutchman and a Scot, and hire either to dig a ditch and bury the result in it. I pay an ISP, according to Econ 101 theory, to administer the network, not to rent the lousy copper wire. Oh, oh, wait, now it's "coaxial" cable, be still my heart, that changes everyth- ... wait, no, that changes nothing. It's still just some lousy wire, wrapped in plastic, wrapped in a bit more plastic wire. Deliver my 6 Mbps, as promised, or refund my money, Comcast.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

DSL by ATT which most folks using around here complain about like nuts, Charter for cable internet and they have THE worst customer service I have ever encountered (minimal hyperbole if any) or dialup which is no longer on my list of fun things to do. Po, pitiful me. :(

Absolutely
Absolutely

How this question gets "resolved" will be decided, too much for my liking, by [b]which[/b] judge hears the case, and whether it is brought with a consumer or ISP as plaintiff, for violation of what. The precedent will be set for us all by the merits of one particular case, illustrating yet again that constitutional democracy is the worst possible form of government, other than all the possible alternatives.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I write down name, date, time of day. Got a nifty list going. No one in charge gives a hoot. I have written letters to every one at every level I could think of, complained regularly via their Customer Service link. Bah... No satisfaction, and my options for change are worse as regards fast and reliable connection. Another Bah...

tony
tony

Trust me I have every name of every rep that I ever spoke to at Comcast as well as the date of the conversation and the issues discussed. Seems to make no difference to them what so ever. I had actually spoken to a handful of good reps over the course of my being their customer, all of which were on the CATV side of their business and did go so far as to zip of an email when the experience was good in an effort to see that the good reps were commended. I'm a firm believer of giving credit where credit is due, but also will not hesitate to complain when service is sub-par. In my experience Comcast more often than not fell into the latter category and so my saga continues.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

We get to the Internet over our WAN to corporate headquarters. As such, all the filtering takes place there. If you'd like to PM me your questions, I can forward them to our security guy. Obviously I can't promise that he'll answer them.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

The Telcos own all the lines.

Absolutely
Absolutely

The government will regulate, or de-regulate, at the discretion of ??? In effect, the wires are owned by public opinion, not by the telecoms. And, the right of consumers to choose long-distance telephone provider is legally mandated. Why cannot the same be required of internet service providers as of long-distance telephone companies?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

But I don't think taxpayers own the phone lines.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

We did pay for them...multiple times by this point.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

We do? I thought the private telecoms owned them.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

would return to dialup first. We battle the "Customer service sucks big-time" (Charter) or the unreliable connection (ATT) around here. I really can't do with an unreliable connection, so I "choose" p*ss-poor customer service. ATT price better too, but again, I'll go with the reliable connection. Ugh. When they've got us by the jewels, they've got us by the jewels.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I've got jack...Comcast or dial up. This is in Walnut Creek, CA! So, uh AT&T could you PLEASE put in DSL a little closer to my friggin' house and make it affordable!?

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