Comcast has decided to make its case against network neutrality by hindering bit torrent downloads. The problem with its policy is that the debate is far from over and this move will anger customers who are likely to have other options for broadband.
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.
Not to mention, Comcast’s moves are underhanded and deceitful.
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 â?? 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.”
By spoofing (pretending to be another computer), Comcast is undermining the credibility of its network. Its behavior resembles that of a Chinese ISP, doing its part to maintain the Great Firewall of China, rather than an American ISP (or am I giving Comcast too much credit?). Comcast is also strengthening arguments for the FCC to label it a common carrier so it doesn’t interfere with the network traffic of its customers. Ultimately, the FCC needs to step up and slap Comcast for its spoofing, which is absolutely not in the public interest.
If Comcast wishes to limit the amount of bandwidth used by its customers, it should cap download speed and total bandwidth available for X time period. It then needs to appropriately set expectations by communicating such limits with customers and providing tools for customers to monitor their usage. The last thing it should be doing is filtering or interfering with traffic based on application type, destination, recipient, etc.
A note about Bit Torrent. It is a file sharing tool that, although used for illicit purposes, does have legitimate uses. For example, Silkroad Online, a free massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), is distributed using BitTorrent. To get the game, you download a 865 MB file. Normally, you would download the game from a single server. That server would be limited by the number of simultaneous connections it has available. For sake of argument, let’s say it has 100 available connections. If 200 people try to download the same file, the first 100 will take all those connection slots. The other 100 users attempting to connect will get an error message to that effect. Each person will need to wait for a slot to free up before they can download the game. Because it takes a long time (one or two hours) for each person to completely download such a large file, those second 100 people will be waiting for quite a long time before they can begin their downloads. Making the game available as a BitTorrent distributes the game more efficiently and limits those error messages game users receive. Instead of setting up several servers to handle traffic for those few people, the company can set up a few seed computers and distribute its game to many more (theoretically, at least).