Packet inspection/traffic management

Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) denies that it throttles certain types of peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic on its networks. The cable company offered its rebuttal when asked about a popular Web report by TorrentFreak that claims Comcast users have been unable to upload files using the BitTorrent Inc. file-sharing application.

The TorrentFreak report states that Comcast used the Sandvine Inc. traffic management platform to throttle traffic. According to the report, "Sandvine breaks every (seed) connection with new peers after a few seconds if it's not a Comcast user."

"We're not blocking access to any application, and we don't throttle any traffic," says Charlie Douglas, a Comcast spokesman.

Douglas didn't explicitly deny the use of deep packet inspection or traffic shaping products. "[Comcast] has a responsibility to manage our network to ensure our customers have the best service, and we use available technologies to do so."

TorrentFreak founder and writer "Ernesto" (who won't divulge his real name) says he has heard from at least 20 Comcast subscribers that claim to have a problem seeding BitTorrent files outside the Comcast network after they are finished downloading. Seeding refers to the practice of immediately sharing a newly downloaded torrent or file as soon as you've finished downloading it.

Ernesto says Comcast is not the only ISP throttling P2P traffic and he claims there are "at least a dozen [ISPs] in North America throttling or limiting bandwidth" for P2P applications.

Tom Donnelly, executive VP of sales and marketing at Sandvine, wouldn't comment specifically on the Comcast reports but says he "wasn't aware of any service provider blocking BitTorrent traffic or seeding."

Donnelly says it's common for service providers "to have policies in place that treat different types of traffic differently." He adds that certain service providers "may differentiate between on-net and off-net traffic," and that some policies may choose to "address unidirectional traffic flows rather than bidirectional flows."

While not explicitly blocking P2P traffic, these types of policies fall in line with the behavior described in the TorrentFreak post, where unidirectional traffic is only available to "on-net" Comcast subscribers.

Donnelly didn't single out Comcast, but he does defend such service provider policies in general by saying they "maximize the aggregate usage" of service provider networks, providing all users with a good experience.

"Doing nothing is not going to result in the satisfaction of the largest number of users," he says.

— Ryan Lawler, Reporter, Light Reading

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rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:03:40 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak The policy makers just don't get the point about common carriage and why it should be kept separate. Wholesaling should be mandatory to prevent these monopolies from getting out of control.

While I like the idea of structural separation I'm not sure it is the cure all for our industry's problems. The primary challenge we face is one of a lack investment towards infrastructure, an infrastructure with large sunk costs.

Also, a historical example of forced separation which occurred during the days when William Boeing was building the US airline industry actually hurt that industry.

On the roads analogy, we pay a lot more than $20 per month towards those infrastructure costs. We pay gas taxes, vehicle fees, issue infrastructure bonds, etc. and that doesn't include externalities like a DoD that protects international shipping lanes, protects pipelines on foreign lands, tries to build "democracies" in foreign societies, etc.

So I'll suggest the problem isn't that monopolies are out of control per se, but society hasn't stepped up to the plate to solve the problem.
jwmarc 12/5/2012 | 3:03:40 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak yeah I know I messed up on "neutrality"
rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:03:39 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak RJS;

One problem in my opinion is a misguided "faith" in competition. It's the promise of facilities based competition that the FCC has used to rid common carriage requirements imposed on telco by previous generations. 700Mhz is more of the same. Don't put your faith in any of that.

Most have one monopoly water supplier and it works. Same for regional electricity. I think internet access will ultimately end up the same way.

Boeing could build the airline industry on the back of exclusive contracts with the US government to carry mail, later to be called airmail. US roads were also constructed to carry physical mail (Rural Free Delivery of mail is very interesting.) So government and exclusivity played a major role in building out those for our society, more than any so-called competition.

The founding fathers of this country new a thing or two about absolute power and what it does.

They also knew about mob rule and what that does and tried to prevent that as well. Today, much of the internet is run by it and it's extremely dysfunctional. In my opinion, that's equally to blame for the lack of progress towards investment in infrastructure.
rjs 12/5/2012 | 3:03:39 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak RJM, the two issues are not exclusive. One can
have municipal networks (as competitors to
the big FOUR). The two issues are independent.
Common carriage has to be enforced for the better
good of the economy. There is no two ways about this.

The last chance to have access without the ILECs in the way as toll-keepers is the wireless spectrum of 700MHZ and guess what, FCC in their "ultimate" wisdom decided to grant the right to open access for devices but no wholesaling. It is a red-herring. Only an idiot or a novice in this space would think otherwise. I would any day prefer to have a wholesale common carriage access to the bandwidth. This would ensure the open access for devices (due to competition) and not the other way around.

Rest assured that once all the "leaks" in the last mile access are fixed, the big four will squeeze and -- I mean really squeeze -- the fiber and wired access to the internet as a monopoly.

The founding fathers of this country new a thing or two about absolute power and what it does. Checks and balances are mandatory and can not be replace by self-policing monopolies.


BigBrother 12/5/2012 | 3:03:38 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak I can tell you it is intended. If I own the network, I would definitely give better servcie to my own customers and careless about others as long as I can give them something the bare minimal. I don't use Bittorrent anymore as it was almost throttle to death in my area. There is no sense in complaining, they are not going to tell you the truth. Did Sandvine ever announce that Comcast is one of their customer? No, of course, Comcast does not want you guys to find out too soon. They will squeeze as much out of their network as possible and add as many users as possible without major network build out. Think about getting rid of all the high runners and they can put a lot more slow running people on it.
BigBrother 12/5/2012 | 3:03:38 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak There are many different policies the ISP can set, for example, if you are a very heavy user, they may throttle you down for other people. They want you to complaint about it so that eventually you will be off the network. There are many ISP that do throttle and Comcast is just one of them. They can also setup policy to give higher priority to their own network users. The only way to bypass this is to create another protocol that will make traffic look like HTTP traffic and they can't throttle you. May be then they will do some more behaviours digging and start throttle again. But the big one is if you are heavy users, they would gladly remove you from the network. They have policy for the top 100 users and can throttle you automatically when you reach a critical point and down to almost nothing except HTTP traffic.
melao 12/5/2012 | 3:03:36 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak In my opinion.
There should be state in the contract that certain applications could be throttled.
Meaning, different prices for different services.
If you want to have an "open pipe", pay more.
If you are an average user, pay less.

But what happens right now is that you pay for a service that you dont have it.

The point is, if they want to limit P2P users, it should be stated in the contract when the service is bought. In my opinion it is illegal to limit a service without any agreement.
tailpin 12/5/2012 | 3:03:35 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak It appears to me that something should be happening soon because -

Gilmore formulated: "The Internet treats censorship as a fault, and
routes around it."

Seems to me some smart young person will come up something simple and elegant, will go off and become a legend, and the world will carry on.
tailpin 12/5/2012 | 3:03:34 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak Does p2p work okay (as in not throttled) thru a corporate VPN?

It seems to me that encryption should not allow the id'ing of p2p traffic.
rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:03:34 PM
re: Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak Gilmore formulated: "The Internet treats censorship as a fault, and routes around it."

MSOs probably won't be acting as agents for Gilmore's internet. They have a tendency towards walled gardens. If you're in the content business, even as a reseller, P2P really isn't a viable product as it erodes the value of content since most who use this method of distribution aren't respecting copyrights and nobody gets paid.
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