Comcast Still Dancing Around Its Content Jamming Operations; What's Wrong With Admitting It?

from the shhhh,-it's-a-secret-that-everyone-knows dept

With the news coming out that Comcast's broadband jamming operations actually interfere with other apps as well, Comcast is now trying to respond to the complaints in every way other than telling people what it is that they're doing, which at this point really does appear to be the only sensible response. Comcast went to Reuters (since it was AP who confirmed the original story) and repeated the carefully worded claim that Comcast is not blocking any kind of traffic. Of course, people aren't saying that it's completely blocking any traffic -- just that it's quietly pulling some background tricks to slow down certain types of traffic without letting its customers know. That's the key part, and it's the same complaint that people have had for years with Comcast concerning its fuzzy bandwidth caps. The company advertises unlimited service, but if it's not unlimited, why not come out and explain what the limitations are? It seems only fair.

Perhaps an answer comes from Tim Lee, who was invited to a conference call today with Comcast to help "clear up" the misperceptions Comcast feels are being spread in the media about its actions. The only problem is that Comcast doesn't clear up anything. It basically admits to the traffic shaping but says it can't tell people that it's doing that, as it could help them get around the shaping. Well, sorry, too late for that. Besides, what's wrong with simply telling people what the limitations are and then going after the violators for terms of service breaches? In being so secretive and misleading about it, all it's doing is causing many more people to get upset with Comcast and think that they're being targeted (even if they're not). It's a ridiculous PR situation for Comcast to be in -- and it could be solved easily enough if Comcast stopped beating around the bush, stopped giving gobbledy-gook doublespeak responses that don't actually answer the questions people are asking and simply told people what they're doing and why. It really is that simple. If the company has a legitimate reason for doing what it's doing (and some people say there is) then why not explain that?


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Prophet, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 2:36am

    Well

    Seems to me that if you are downloading at the same time you are uploading you can get around the "Shaping", Hmmmmmmm Download a Large File at 1kb down in the background and seed until your hearts content. I never saw anything that stated they reserve the right to terminate connections you have open in the EULA i read.

     

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    R. H., Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 2:54am

    This looks like a poor attempt at customer retenti

    I don't believe for a minute that Comcast couldn't tell us customers what protocols they specifically have an issue with. The argument that telling us what protocols are being blocked would lead to workarounds is invalid. They can quite easily tell us WHAT they're blocking without telling us HOW they block it. As it is independent groups have figured out the how (TCP reset packets) and, it seems, the what (bittorrent, and as a casualty of war, Lotus Notes).

    If it was listed in the Terms of Service what I could and could not do I'd probably avoid doing things to get my service terminated...or switch ISP's. THAT is probably what they're more worried about. If they were to say that certain protocols weren't allowed I'd be on AT&T's 6mbps/384kbps DSL faster than anything. I've never used my full d/l on Comcast except for bandwidth tests and the u/l is the same. It's just too bad the most Comcast users will just notice that their torrents aren't seeding correctly and just become swarm killing leechers....

     

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      John 55337, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 5:04am

      Re: This looks like a poor attempt at customer ret

      Aye, one of their main selling points is that they told customers they don't care what you do with the bandwidth.

      And its true. They don't the just care how much you use.

      On a side note, all they do is kill a port after that port has moved "too much" data, and it isn't port number 40. All you have to do is switch ports. If they kill one a day, and you have a range of 10,000 or so, you should be good for a couple years.

      And if you don't even

       

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        matt, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 6:38am

        you are misinformed, sir

        As one of the individuals who has Comcast and participated in the research with Robb, I can tell you firsthand that swapping ports does nothing. They block the type of traffic involved. It's very easy to identify the type of traffic. Port blocking never works and never did in the first place. Torrent blocking by sending reset packets doesn't care what port you're on, and neither does the lotus situation.

        The fact of the matter is they randomly filter about 50% of bitorrent upload connections. And I mean 50% every 5-10 seconds they reset on you, effectively killing any seeding. I have the wireshark logs, those are mine that were provided for the research. For our 1KB/s person, its kinda hard to download once you're seeding, for the comments above as well. I'll be glad to switch instantly when any non dialup provider other than yahoo (who is just as corrupt and garbage filled) is available in my area (thanks comcast monopoly).

         

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        FH Harris, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 7:58am

        Re: Re: This looks like a poor attempt at customer

        I guess you missed the story that AP put out that explained that Comcast is not just port killing. They are interrupting the packets and spoofing both sides into thinking that they are finished and need to disconnect.

         

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    mkam, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 3:27am

    The most important point

    If you mistakenly assume that there is competition in the broadband Internet market then Comcast is making mad decisions. The fact of the matter is people already don't like them and in a good market they are the lesser of two evils and in a bad market they are the only one. So they probably are just cutting some of there overhead costs (less traffic) and their customer base won't be changed much. Sounds like increases profit for me. Maybe if the customers are lucky they will tack on a 'QOS tariff' on the bills for all this good work they are doing.

     

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      mkam, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 3:28am

      Re: The most important point

      English Nazi-
      making mad decisions = making bad decisions
      increases profit for me = increased profit to me

       

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    TX CHL Instructor (profile), Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 3:55am

    I was glad the day...

    A couple of years ago, I dropped Comcast for Verizon FiOS. Overnight, I lost the frustrations of having intermittent service, a 'help' desk 'technician' somewhere (I started scheduling at least an hour for my once-a-week or so call) in the 3rd world that had essentially no networking experience (and an accent so thick I had trouble understanding), and a connection that was so slow that about half the time, my 56Kbaud back-up dial-up account was *FASTER*.

    To top it off, I even saved a little money because FiOS has been on 100%, so I was able to drop the backup dial-up account. I'm not all that fond of Verizon, but FiOS has been a good product. Then again, just about anything would look good compared to Comcast, including dial-up.
    --
    Texas Concealed Handgun License Courses

     

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    SpacemanSpiff, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 6:22am

    Re: Comcast Still Dancing Around Its Content Jammi

    "What's wrong with admitting it?" is that Comcast is not unlike all Cable Providers in North America right now, i.e. they are cable companies (broadcast networks) running high-speed data and VoIP networks (push-pull networks) they don't understand nor manage well.

    Comcast doesn't know how to manage a push-pull network and therefore is struggling to manage the bandwidth (and associated costs). Their attempts to date are baby-steps technologically, so they don't tell you what they are blocking, because they only know how they are blocking. Therefore releasing "what they know" is going to release to the masses how to get around it.

    I'm not saying it's proper thinking by Comcast in this case, as has been demonstrated recently ... the folks running on the network are more sophisticated then the folks running the network. This is a bandwidth cost issue with a bad technological solution by Comcast. They should drop this failed attempt and get on with a proper bandwidth management through open mitigation of per customer bandwidth limits at the extreme and proper budgeted buildout of the network bandwidth. All paying customers should be able to view their daily usage stats, especially in the case of "soft" caps and any mitigation of high-bandwidth protocols.

    Driven by the greed of high speed data/VoIP $$-per-month from customers not being able to offset the bandwidth costs (and the cable-side costs associated with programming) Comcast has blundered into a bad technology choice.

     

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    doUbuySoftware?, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 6:36am

    bit torrent

    I have yet to hear someone say, "Hey, I use my torrent client for legal sharing of large media files and software that I have written for free to the public and Comcast is keeping me from performing legit activity on my internet connection". I think the elephant in the room is that, most torrent sharing is of illegal movies, songs, warez, etc. Ok, maybe it's wrong for Comcast to impersonate its customers and maybe they should disclose what traffic they slow down and even why, but come on – will someone please start talking about how they use torrent to conduct legit business, or share their home movies with their family, or SOMETHING. Otherwise, you're just dodging your issue (illegal downloading of items mentioned above) like Comcast is dodging theirs (claiming to have unlimited internet when it’s not).

     

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      SpacemanSpiff, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 6:56am

      Re: bit torrent

      Hey, I utilize torrents to download game demos and linux distros. I also keep said torrents up (and feeding others) for a day after download. Legal content distribution.

      - A protocol is not legal/illegal, the content transported by it is potentially illegal.
      - Comcast is making no determination based on content in this case.

      The rub here is the torrent protocol is being spoofed/man-in-the-middle-manipulated for what purpose? Is it content or is it bandwidth?

      Maybe the truth lies in the facts associated with what compromises Comcast's cost for bandwidth, both numbers and protocol?

      What costs are associated with content for Comcast? None to Comcast beyond the bandwidth to transport them to/from. That's why no one is debating legality/illegality. It's a subtext ... and interesting one, but a subtext.

      You have a good point, it's just not really on Comcast's radar and hence not a working point of discussion right now.

       

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        doUbuySoftware?, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 7:08am

        Re: Re: bit torrent

        point well taken. I guess i'm coming from a point of view where the users on our corporate network are hogging up our bandwidth with such programs which are not related to our business. that's something completely separate from the idea of providing internet access to the general public. I suppose if Comcast were to just post speed limit signs on their portion of the information hwy, people wouldn't make such a fuss. but what they seem to be doing is say, hey, drive as fast as you want in whatever car you want, but then they don't allow trucks to get off at the exit they want to.

        I do think that this idea of impersonation is a little overblown. to send a rst packet is a common way to throttle bandwidth. they could also change the tcp window size, but then someone would probably claim they are invading privacy by altering the packet.

         

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      Cypher, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 8:50am

      Re: bit torrent

      Fact of the matter is, what an end user does with the bandwidth they are paying for is not the business of the ISP. If you pay $55 bucks a month for Comcast as I do because of my lack of options I reserve the right to do whatever legal or illegal activity I decide to do. At that point it is not up to Comcast to sensor what I'm doing, its up to the people whose copy write I'm breaking to deal with me. Comcast has no right to interfere at that level. Now moving on to point two about bittorent networks. The second point being that more and more content being moved over bittorent is LEGAL. Many Linux distros use torrent networks as do many online movie download sites ( as you would notice if you check the original www.bittorent.com ) many schools use bittorent protocols to transfer data to students for class lecture notes and recordings of the lectures. Fact of the matter is that while bittorent protocol is used for illegal activity so is EVERY OTHER file sharing protocol and saying that its ok to target bittorent because of the content is not a real argument. Point 2 of the matter is this, if Comcast did declare war on bittorent so be it they need to say so and make sure their efforts are correctly targeted and don't interfere with legit traffic like LOTUS NOTES, if the efforts of Comcast to shape traffic are causing problems with legitimate traffic then there are larger issues to look at than whether or not they are stopping the illegal spread of copywrited content. In fact if it is interfering with legitimate traffic it completely invalidates the argument of illegal content.

       

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    Mark, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 6:54am

    Notes

    Well, doUbuy, I'm still trying to connect to my office from home and one of the main problems for me is, Lotus Notes doesn't work. Two weeks ago this cost me a whole day of work. If it turns out that it's because Comcast is intercepting and tinkering with the data that passes between me and my employer, it'll be a big problem.

     

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      doUbuySoftware?, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 7:01am

      Re: Notes

      Ok. Now that's something. Seems like a call to tech support (or many calls to tech support by many users) regarding a legit business app like Lotus Notes not working could result in a "fix" for that program. I empathize with you because I also work from home and if I couldn't connect to my employer, I would be out of work.

      on a side note, if you want to look into citrix for your company, it's pretty cheap these days, and works great for me to run all kinds of apps that would otherwise not work over the internet.

       

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        Chronno S. Trigger, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 10:30am

        Re: Re: Notes

        "Seems like a call to tech support"
        Are you reading this article? They won't fix the problem because they won't acknowledge the fact that it exists. And your pretty much saying it's OK to block something because there is something else.

        As for Citrix, remember that your not just paying the few hundred dollars per license for citrix windows and terminal services, your also paying for the server and an IT guy to support it. (we have citrix here and it is a good program when it works)

         

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    Overcast, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 8:22am

    Someone I know got a letter from Time Warner the other day - deactivated his internet and he had to go to a link, telling him to remove Torrent, he had a lot of 'unauthorized content' he was hosting, etc..

    Glad I don't have Time Warner or Comcast, I just worry my ISP isn't far behind.

    And the funny part is - well, I don't really use file sharing much, it's just the idea of the whole thing

     

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    RandomThoughts, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:00am

    Does anyone like any cable company? Any teleco? Any wireless company?

    In terms of customer service, the bar isn't all that high. They all screw you, its just some of them try to flatter you before they do so. Most just ram it in.

     

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    porkbutt, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:22am

    Why do people insist on giving Comcast a free pass on this because it is "bittorent"? The fact is Comcast has NO right to tell any user what protocols they can or can't use, and it has a LESS THAN ZERO right to spoof identities. Wake up and quit buying into this false notion of copyright management. This is all about controlling what you do on the internet, and if you want Comcast to lead the way in turning the web into cable tv 2.0, then just keep supporting what they are doing.

     

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    Old Bastard, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 9:46am

    Hmmm.

    Well if they can sit between me and my connection and spoof packets. Why cant we all? Oh. Wait. Thats right it is against the law to do that.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 11:06am

    I truly believe that large corporate entities will lie even when the truth would serve them better. It's not so much that they consider and discard a truthful response, it's that it never even occurs to them to begin with, that being how pervasive and ingrained the denial/evasiveness has become.

     

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    Nicholas, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 12:24pm

    BitTorrent != Illegal

    Keep in mind that more and more companies are integrating BitTorrent-type technologies into their products. Microsoft's secure content distribution downloader comes to mind, as does Blizzard's World of Warcraft updater. Messing with these protocols is just going to lead to problems that will most likely be blamed on the end-companies, and not their ISP.

    Overall, it's bad policy and bad PR to play this game. If I was a technically savvy user with ComCast, I'd bail out and send them a letter stating exactly why.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 2:12pm

    Comcast is using Sandvine Deep Packet inspecting switches. I know there has been conflicting reports about how they were doing it.

     

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    RandomThoughts, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 2:21pm

    Most broadband users don't need large pipes, they use their connection for email and surfing the web, things that don't eat up a whole lot of bandwidth.

    Since cable is a shared pipe, I wonder if Comcast is really interested in keeping customers that use BitTorrent-type programs? Might be more trouble than its worth for them.

     

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    Danny, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 2:33pm

    What's wrong with admitting that you ask?

    Simple. If they admit what they are doing then the content providers who are legitly offering their stuff over bit torrent (Linux, indie music, etc.) would use that as ammunition for a lawsuit. By using doublespeak they are trying to protect themselves from legal action by content providers and ComCast customers (but I'm sure the ELUA in the ComCast TOS gives them immunity from lawsuits).

     

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    RandomThoughts, Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 5:25pm

    OK, you ask in this thread why can't they just admit it, then in a later post you ask how long until the lawsuits start.

    Maybe thats why they didn't want to admit it?

     

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      Mike (profile), Oct 23rd, 2007 @ 5:55pm

      Re:

      OK, you ask in this thread why can't they just admit it, then in a later post you ask how long until the lawsuits start. Maybe thats why they didn't want to admit it?

      If that's true, that's incredibly weak. Denying you did something so you can't get sued... even though you are doing it? Um. Do you see why that's a dumb strategy? If you screwed up (as Comcast did) admit it, admit you made a mistake and move on. You're going to get sued one way or the other. if the people suing you can then prove that you continued to LIE about it after you'd been found out, doesn't that look worse?

      Yeah, thought so.

       

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    RandomThoughts, Oct 24th, 2007 @ 5:54am

    I agree its weak Mike, maybe you should have covered the lawsuit potential in this thread.

    As for being weak, I am sure lawyers would have a different opinion of what you should or should not say.

     

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    Eric the Grey, Oct 24th, 2007 @ 2:13pm

    Potential legal troubles?

    Perhaps if they admit to it, they will face potential legal problems from states that have laws against impersonating another person.

    Even IF they are only limiting this blockage to the people in states that do not have these laws, it has been determined that the RST (reset) signal goes both ways, to the person on the Comcast network, as well as the peer/seeder they are attached to, stopping communication both ways. There is no way to guarantee that those people are not in states that have laws against this type of behavior.


    EtG

     

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    BillW, Oct 25th, 2007 @ 2:31pm

    Is any attention being paid to the necessity of managing the network? Bandwidth, and currently available technology, is not infinite and we have to make sure that the majority of users, who do not use P2P applications, can use the Internet efficiently. This may not be the most desirable situation but with limited resources management is necessary to ensure that everyone is satisfied as best they can.

     

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    KenW, Nov 3rd, 2007 @ 6:03pm

    What no has mentioned is - Comcast as all other broadband providers has attracted the current scale of broadband market it has, greatly due to the type of usage of the same users they are now trying to limit. Even before telecommuting was a reason, consumers flocked to broadband so that they could "download anything they wanted" at speeds much faster than dialup. I honestly don't care if Comcast admits to it. As soon as Verizon FiOS is available in my area, I'm gone as a multi use customer - internet, phone and TV. So economically, they could be discouraging the right types of high-cost internet users, but they will also lose other desired streams of revenue. I think that's why they don't want to come out and say it publicly to avoid a mass loss of angry "tech-savvy" multi-use customers.

     

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