Comcast Realizes Blocking By Protocol Is A Problem; Asks BitTorrent For Some Help

from the took-'em-long-enough dept

Well, well, well. After stubborn silence, non-denial denials, and (finally) a "but we have to!" defense, combined lawsuits and FCC threats, it appears Comcast has realized that its traffic shaping efforts have turned into something of a "rootkit moment." In an announcement this morning, the company has teamed up with BitTorrent Inc. (the company, not the wider protocol itself) in order to come up with "protocol agnostic" ways to manage its traffic. It's not giving up on traffic shaping -- but it will be based on overall bandwidth use, rather than what applications you're using. Lotus Notes users rejoice.

Of course, announcements, by themselves, mean nothing. Let's wait and see what sort of systems Comcast actually puts in place before we judge whether the end result is better or not. Though, it does confirm what we noted recently: this really is a problem that can be solved by technology -- which Comcast just didn't want to implement. Comcast's unwillingness to come up with a more reasonable technology solution earlier (while Verizon and others have been exploring them) is its own fault. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if this has any impact on the lawsuits and the FCC investigation. Other than that, let's see what Comcast actually does (and how upfront they are about it) before saying this is a full win. In the meantime, just getting Comcast to budge a little has to be seen as a short-term victory.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 10:07am

    Well, there's talk, and then there's action. And while there has been plenty of,albeit, negative action, in the past, let us see.

     

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  2.  
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    Joseph Durnal, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 10:09am

    I don’t have trouble downloading with bittorrent and I use Comcast. I’m not a big downloader, mostly just use it for legit stuff like linux ISO’s and eval software. It is still faster to use bittorrent than the http or ftp download mirrors. Maybe I just don’t understand exactly what Comcast is doing.

    Whatever it is, they should disclose what they are doing so that the consumer can make an informed choice (if they even have a choice). If you prioritize VOIP traffic, that is fine, just let us know. There may be a few crazies out there that will dump their Comcast service if they knew what was going on, but I doubt it would really have an impact on the bottom line.

     

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  3.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 10:30am

    Re:

    "Maybe I just don’t understand exactly what Comcast is doing"

    Comcast isn't doing it everywhere. My packets have never been reset ether but my max download speed has been cut to 1/6th of what it was (was 24Mb down now it's 4Mb down).

    "you prioritize VOIP traffic, that is fine, just let us know"

    They don't want to say that because they only prioritise theirs. Vonage, VoiceWing, Skipe users be damned.

    "but I doubt it would really have an impact on the bottom line."

    Not much negative, I'd guess mostly positive. They would be the first ISP to be honest with their clients. But, if they decide to cut my Internet speeds down and packet shape my ports I better see a reduction in price to match my reduction in service.

     

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  4.  
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    chris (profile), Mar 27th, 2008 @ 10:40am

    Re: Re:

    "My packets have never been reset ether but my max download speed has been cut to 1/6th of what it was (was 24Mb down now it's 4Mb down)."

    i would run over my grandmother with a garden weasel for 4mb up. are you reading this insight broadband?

     

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  5.  
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    Danny, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 10:57am

    good news?

    This is potentially good news. I have been putting off for the last 18 months dumping my home phone line and moving everything else over to Comcast specifically because of the traffic shaping reports I've been reading.

    If this proves out, I will finally get rid of my home phone!

     

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  6.  
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    Matt, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 11:18am

    talk vs action

    the first poster hit it dead on. I'll believe it when I see it, until then I don't expect anything.

     

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  7.  
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    Overcast, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 11:29am

    Once again - Thank God I don't have Comcast.

     

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  8.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Mar 27th, 2008 @ 11:40am

    NY Times - Comcast to Stop Hampering File-Sharing

     

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  9.  
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    bill parker, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 12:22pm

    Let Them Do What They Want

    Who cares, let them do what they want on their network, we can vote with our dollars. all urban areas have a choice these days and for those who don't, well that too will come in time as other pounce on Comcast market share.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 1:01pm

    "It's not giving up on traffic shaping -- but it will be based on overall bandwidth use, rather than what applications you're using."

    The moment that someone who is paying the extra for a 16mbps connection is constantly limited to speeds less than the 6mbps (the cheaper connection) connection, Comcast will end up facing lawsuits

     

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  11.  
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    Sean Henry, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 1:02pm

    I do not mind traffic shaping IF done in good faith. If the service is advertised as up to 10Mb down and 2Mb up then it better be able to provide it. For services that use real time interactive communication and need a faster rate give ALL the same equal priority (eg. First priority emergency services, second VOIP, third most all other services, last background services like updates.).

    So if the network can handle 500 users downloading at 10Mbs at the same time. (The download speed cap will be considered 10Mbs for this example.) If there are 1000 users all downloading at the same time the max speed any user can use during that time would be 5Mbs. For any one using VOip they would get 5-10% more bandwidth to use during that time than other users. Any emergency services would be given the max bandwidth of 10Mbs at all times.

    Using a file sharing protocol to share within the providers network should have the cap removed for those transmissions up to the point that it starts to limit transmissions into and out of the providers hub. This will allow for faster transmissions less bandwidth going between providers and less network time being used keeping the network from having a high load for as long of a time.

     

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  12.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Mar 27th, 2008 @ 1:02pm

    Troll Or Do You Really Think That We Have Choice?

    RE #9: "all urban areas have a choice these days"

    Bill, um, I live in this boondocks called Silicon Valley, and I've been told that we are known, as a region, for those there Internets. Yet I have all of two choices for Broadband, Comcast or AT&T. In my last home in the area, DSL did not reach my house, leaving me one choice.

    Whether it's one or two, I don't think that quite makes it a competitive market, where providers need relinquish market power, and be ruled by customer demand. Much on the contrary, my degree and training in what is called "Economics" suggested to me that a two-provider market could occasionally be considered an oligopoly. This becomes increasingly likely if there are significant barriers to entry for new competitors.

    Those barriers to entry could be things like:
    - there is significant capital expense preventing new companies from competing
    - there are laws preventing entry (like municipal franchises, spectrum licenses, etc.)
    - it is practically improbable to install a competing infrastructure (as in digging ditches along every street in a town for your copper, fiber, or cable).
    - there is a powerful lobby from the incumbents giving them preferential treatment form government.
    - the incumbents will drop their prices and undercut any new credible threat.

    I'm not sure if any of those are ringing a bell with you or not, but to me it's starting to look a bit like the broadband market is not one rife with consumer choice.

    No. I don't agree. We "vote with our dollars" the same way a Zimbabwean votes with their vote (and that country is dangling a long way under Chad.)

     

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  13.  
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    Brian Kedersha, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 1:31pm

    Choice?!! I Wish!

    I have no choice! The legal cable monopoly created by the local governments gives us little choice in broadband. I have comcast, or comcast. My city is fighting with verizon about installing Fiber underground.

     

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  14.  
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    dave, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 2:08pm

    limiting by bandwidth, so now we wont get bandwidt

    Sounds like a load ... now instead of comcast "trying" to limit people who are downloading pirated media, we get bandwidth limits.. So if I "use" my connection, they will limit it? So http downloads get limited to what ? Loads of bullshit and if Bittorent Inc. suggested it, they should burn in hell too.

     

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  15.  
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    Pete Valle, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 3:34pm

    Choice???

    Around here I have the choice of ultra expensive DSL or a somewhat inexpensive cable company who blatantly does traffic shaping without telling its customers. So, either pay a kidney a month for decent download speeds, or resign myself to never using Bittorrent.

     

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  16.  
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    Monarch, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 3:42pm

    Re: Sean Henry

    As an OC192 that provides 1gbps bandwidth costs appx $1 million per month, in order to fulfill your scenario to guarantee that if someone purchases an "up to" 10mbps circuit, and the ISP or Cable company needs to make sure EVERYONE gets their 10mbps at all times when the network is being maxed, the ISP would only be able to have 1000 customers connected to that OC192.
    Now if the OC192 only had 1000 customers connected to it, the cable company would have to charge each customer $1000.00 per month to break even. So to make a profit from it, that would cover all their costs, they are going to need to charge each customer at least $1100.00 per month. Are you willing to pay that much per month Sean Henry to guarantee you get your 10mbps?

     

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  17.  
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    Dan Guido, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 3:44pm

    How RED can solve congestion problems

    Please read Nate Lawson's post on probability-based traffic shaping over at his blog. I think Nate has been mentioned on techdirt before, he created BD+.

    How RED can solve congestion problems

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 4:11pm

    Re: Re: Sean Henry

    I did not mean for it to sound like all users get 10Mbps at all times but if they are able to provide up to 1000 users with a steady 10Mbps then when there is

     

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  19.  
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    Sean Henry, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 4:21pm

    Re: Re: Sean Henry

    Crap for some reason it did not post all the message but my point was.
    1. If you have more than 1000 users on actively using all possible bandwidth then 100 more get on doing the same thing all will be scaled back 10%.
    2. All users will not be on at the same time.
    3. Most the time when on users are not actually transmitting just like my connection now as I type.

     

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  20.  
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    MaxB312, Mar 27th, 2008 @ 7:06pm

    Technologcal Solution

    It's a great point, this issue needs a technological solution. Not a political or regulatory one. A lot of these issues are only really understood by network engineers, not lawmakers. They need to have the final say. And from what I've read (http://bennett.com/blog/index.php/archives/2008/03/27/new-and-improved-traffic-shaping/) network engineers seem to think this is a good plan. This overheated political posturing doesn't do anything but hide the real issue. Issues that are technical, not political.

     

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  21.  
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    Public Knowledge, Mar 28th, 2008 @ 7:52am

    This is not a solution

    Whatever this deal means, it does not mean that Comcast is out of the throttling business. We at Public Knowledge are still pushing forward with our petition to the FCC to demand that Comcast abide by the FCC principles of network management. More information about our petition can be found at:

    http://www.publicknowledge.org/node/1485

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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