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FCC Reports Comcast P2P Blocking Was More Widespread 120

Posted by Soulskill
from the saw-that-coming dept.
bob charlton from 66 tips us to a ComputerWorld story about FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who has testified that Comcast's P2P traffic management occurred even when network congestion wasn't an issue, contrary to the ISP's claims. After defending its actions and being investigated by the FCC over the past few months, Comcast has tried to repair its image by making nice with BitTorrent and working towards a P2P Bill of Rights. Quoting: "'It does not appear that this technique was used only to occasionally delay traffic at particular nodes suffering from network congestion at that time,' Martin told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. 'Based on testimony we've received thus far, this equipment was typically deployed over a wider geographic area or system, and is not even capable of knowing when an individual ... segment of the network is congested.'
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FCC Reports Comcast P2P Blocking Was More Widespread

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  • by Urthwhyte (967114) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @06:14PM (#23176690)
    Comcast: Hating our customers since 1963
    • by Tuoqui (1091447) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @06:35PM (#23176878) Journal
      Tag this: Billofrestrictions
    • Anonymous Coward. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @08:35PM (#23177664)

      Comcast: Hating our customers since 1963
      I've worked for Comcast since the mid-eighties. Over the last few years everything has really went to pot. Miserable managers who lie as easily as talk, faked technical and management reports are the norm. You can't survive without doing this. I really believe it started when we picked up a lot of former AOL and TCI/AT&T guys. After that the company culture, which wasn't stellar to start with, took a serious wrong turn.

      Anyway, as far as the packet meddling: it's done by a Sandvine box. There's thousands of them nationwide. There's one wherever there's a CMTS (Cisco UBR or Arris Cadant router) That means there's one in your neighborhood.
      • You picked up a lot of former AOL people and you wonder why your company sucks. AOL sucks. AOL has always sucked. It sucked when it was pretty much the only ISP a lot of people could get. It sucked when you tried to cancel and ended up cancelling your credit card instead because no matter what you did they wouldn't stop billing you. It sucked when you tried to make them refund you for the months where you should have been cancelled but they just kept on billing. It sucked when you finally gave up and
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by dw604 (900995)
          Dude, it's not his company... even if it were, you're still an ass. Are we still making fun of AOL these days?
        • AOL has not "always" sucked. It was a really good company in the 80s, when it provided Quantum Link service to Commodore=64 computers. We even had full-colored graphics! Pre-WWW. Neat. It was still a decent company when it first renamed itself to America Online.

          It only truly went downhill circa 2000 when it tried to hand-out more customer contracts than bandwidth available, thus giving everybody the infamous "always busy" signal when they tried to dial-in. If Comcast is now run by former AOL managers,
        • You picked up a lot of former AOL people and you wonder why your company sucks. AOL sucks. AOL has always sucked. It sucked when it was pretty much the only ISP a lot of people could get. It sucked when you tried to cancel and ended up cancelling your credit card instead because no matter what you did they wouldn't stop billing you. It sucked when you tried to make them refund you for the months where you should have been cancelled but they just kept on billing. It sucked when you finally gave up and disput
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ptrace (1078855)
        It's interesting that a whitepaper provided by Sandvine posits that their equipment actually protects Net Neutrality with "fair allocation of network resources between potentially competing uses of the network." Stating, "the greedy nature of applications and the over-subscription model of the Internet challenges network operators and the regulatory environment as they strive to maintain Internet freedoms that subscribers expect from the Industry". http://www.sandvine.com/general/getfile.asp?FILEID=37 [sandvine.com]

        Ca

        • Sure...that's what it CAN do. But its trivial to make a configuration that turns it into an indiscriminate P2P throttling machine. As a matter of fact, its EASIER to configure it that way than to take the time to check when and where to throttle.
      • by Kristoph (242780)
        I've had Comcast for several years (in the Seattle area). I had 3 incidents where Comacast accidentally disconnected my cable and I was down for 2-3 days (until I went down to the box with the Comcast guy and he let me label it 'never disconnect'). A few months later Comcast sent around a client relationship rep to ask if I was happy with their service. When I complained about the downtime she upgraded my connection for life for free (even if I move). I now enjoy 26 mb down and 3 mb up (as per speedtest) wi
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by electrictroy (912290)
          Yes, sometimes Comcast provides good service. For example one morning I turned-on my television and discovered instead of my usual 15-channel service, I had 70-channel service. I was paying $7 a month (plus tax) for 70 channels!

          Of course this was an ACCIDENT. It was not the result of a genuine desire by Comcast to make me happy.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Comcast: We're not happy, until Your not happy!
    • Not yet they aren't (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Comcast getting their just desserts

      You'll notice that no where in the article are penalties for Comcast mentioned. They do say that Congress is "considering clarifying" the FCC's power to "act on blocking complaints," but at this point there is nothing besides speculation of what that means, and absolutely no mention of punitive action on the current complaints.

      Comcast could get off with a gentle scolding and a "we'll be watching you from now on" talk. That's at the strict end of the scale. They could a

    • by tony1343 (910042)
      It is "just deserts." This is a very commonly misspelled word. Check out http://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/misspelled_words.html or other websites by googling it.
  • by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @06:17PM (#23176714)
    The National Weather Service Reports that the Sky is Blue
    • Rain falls.
      Italians cheat at football.

      • Hey, italians don't cheat at football.
        They just play more aggressively and use 'creativity' to win matches.
        Much like Enron and Citi used 'creative' accounting to make profits.
        Much like Microsoft used 'creative' sales of XP to avoid taxes.

        As long as its not illegal, am not cheating.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The National Weather Service Reports that the Sky is Blue
      You obviously don't live in the greater LA area.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The National Weather Service Reports that the Sky is Blue [citation needed]
    • by Kingrames (858416)
      That's big news for chicago.
    • by iNaya (1049686)
      Here in Shanghai, I wish it was.
  • they were full of shit.
  • Suits don't know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by o1d5ch001 (648087) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @06:24PM (#23176798) Journal
    Its always curious when the suits of big ISPs talk about something they really don't understand. I worked at a large International ISP, and everyone from the Ops Manager up didn't understand the technology. They were "results oriented" and they apparently didn't need to know.

    So, I can just imagine what they folks at the top were being told by "middle management".

    Sigh.

    And imagine, no one wanted Block D of the wireless spectrum to deliver wireless services and provide real alternatives. The Internet has been bought and sold to the highest bidders, and now we all have to live with the moronic decisions being made by people who are only interested in squeezing as much revenue of the porn addled, facebook addicted, morons paying the bills.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...squeezing as much revenue of the porn addled, facebook addicted, morons paying the bills.

      The key words in that sentence are "paying the bills." Like it or not, all of this infrastructure exists because those "morons" are paying the bills, and because the "suits" are so good at "squeezing revenue" out of them. If the internet were built without regard to profit, it would never have grown past a modest network connecting a few academic and government computers. At the very least, we would be paying a heck of a lot more for less bandwidth because we wouldn't be enjoying the economies of scale

      • by MarcQuadra (129430) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @08:50PM (#23177788)
        The -responsible- thing to do would be to use QoS to make all the P2P streams a lower priority than HTTP.

        Instead, they're actively (and randomly) interrupting P2P and causing -all- P2P traffic to fail, even at 4AM.

        The sad thing is, I know exactly why this is happening. There's someone (or a group of people) who honestly believe that 'P2P is eating all our bandwidth' and that if they use this blocking method, it'll all be OK.

        I worked at a place where the Network Manager would see what sites were 'eating all the bandwidth' and just knock them down to 56Kbits/sec for the whole place. What he didn't understand is that -using your bandwidth is a good thing-, it means you're not paying for more than you use. 'blocking' P2P or 'top-talkers' just makes the experience on a network suck, there are much more effective and subtle ways to manage traffic that quietly make the traffic you want more important than the traffic you don't want interfering.
        • The BitTorrent is *still* not random.
          Comcast is *still* shutting down BitTorrent seeders.
          There's nothing random about it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gozu (541069)
          You're absolutely right about QoS.

          What he didn't understand is that -using your bandwidth is a good thing-, it means you're not paying for more than you use.

          This is not accurate, however. The standard procedure when you are Comcast and are peering with Tier1 people like ATT and Cogent is to pay them money for each gig of data you send on to their network and vice versa. So you always want people to be sending packets to your network and you hate those pesky uploaders who are sending them out packets out of
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by illumin8 (148082)

          The sad thing is, I know exactly why this is happening. There's someone (or a group of people) who honestly believe that 'P2P is eating all our bandwidth' and that if they use this blocking method, it'll all be OK.

          It's much more nefarious than that. To understand why Comcast prevents people from uploading (seeding) torrents, but doesn't prevent people from downloading torrents, you need to understand how peering agreements between large backbone internet providers work.

          ISP A (let's call them Comcast) wants

  • Surprised? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by M0bius (26596) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @06:35PM (#23176886)
    Who is surprised by this revelation? From initial denial to any traffic shaping, to stacking the hearing with payed shills, Comcast has proven they are willing to do whatever it takes to oversell their service and then bottleneck it to keep from having to make infrastructure upgrades. I wouldn't be shocked if they rubbed the blood of sacrificed newborn children onto their fiber if it would save them a buck or two. Go Comcast!
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Blood of sacrificed newborns? THAT would never work...

      you need to use Cheetah blood.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by deepershade (994429)
        Comment might have been funnier if you'd have said 'blood of a virgin', but with this being Slashdot, i can imagine that would strike a little too close to home for most :)
  • "Blocking" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AsnFkr (545033) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @06:53PM (#23177002) Homepage Journal
    I'm convinced instead of "blocking" some customers they simapily drove them to bad service so they would leave. I am an example of this:

    I run lots of torrents, and have for years. I have always had a very very stable line with Prestige Digital Cable, whom was bought by Adelphia whom was eventually bought by Comcast. My service with Comcast started out bad, as the upload speeds were cut in half and the bill was almost doubled (over a course of 6 months) but the actual line was very very stable. I didn't pay for a static IP, but I had the same IP address for a very long time, as most people tend to have. Eventually one day my IP shifted to a new subnet which gave like 90% packet loss (tested 24/hrs a day and averaged out with some Linus scripting). I ran my PC straight into the modem (removing the Linksys router) and it gave me an IP on the old and trusted subnet, with no packet loss at all. When I hooked the router up it associated it's MAC and put me on the bad one again. So I cloned the PC's MAC to the router, and bada-bing I'm on the good subnet and back to my torrents. A few weeks go by and all of a sudden that MAC addy is being pushed onto the bad subnet. I clone another MAC addy and up onto the good subnet I go, and around and around we go. Eventually I got sick of it and canceled the service all together. When I called to cancel the woman was very friendly until she had a chance to pull up my account info, they she just told me "Your service is off. Goodbye, click", leading me to wonder if there is actually a note in my account that has me marked as a high-traffic user.

    I realize most of this is based on paranoid speculation, so take it for what it's worth, but to be fair another friend of mine in the same town had the SAME EXACT situation take place. Just seems a little fishy.
    • by pembo13 (770295)
      Were their no other ISPs? How were you so patient with your paid for service?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jd (1658)
        Most places that have high-speed Internet have only one, or perhaps two, actual ISPs. There may be a few low-speed ISPs around (eg: 802.11b wireless) and there might also be one or two resellers of the high-speed bandwidth, but the odds are fairly high that if you've upset one ISP, that confidential information will somehow appear on the desk of all the other ISPs. The odds are much much greater for resellers. Choice in the ISP world is very limited and what appears to be choice will often be an illusion, a
      • by AsnFkr (545033)
        Yea, it's Comcast, Verizon DSL (Yearly contracts for god-knows-how-bad-service) or dial up. Or leech off the neighbors wifi, which I did till they moved! Argh!
      • by Todd Knarr (15451)

        In most cases, yes, you'll have a choice between at most two broadband ISPs: your local cable company (providing cable Internet) and your local telephone company (providing DSL). Note that that's a maximum. In a noticeable number of areas you'll have only one. Sometimes it's because one or the other simply doesn't serve that chunk of real estate. Sometimes in the case of apartments, condominium complexes and newer developments it's because the owner/developer has given one company exclusive rights to provid

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by ion.simon.c (1183967)
          I had read that as of late 2007, such exclusivity agreements are no longer "legal".

          Ars makes a mention in this article, but I can't be arsed to find a press release or Order on the FCC's site.
          http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080319-fcc-overhauls-its-broadband-data-as-eu-points-and-laughs.html [arstechnica.com]
          • by Todd Knarr (15451)

            Whether they're legal or not unfortunately doesn't give you any leverage to force a competitor to serve you. If your complex has an illegal exclusivity agreement with the local telco for broadband Internet, they refuse to lease space on their lines to competing DSL providers (which they can do) and the local cable company refuses to wire up the complex (which they can do), then you're still stuck with only one ISP available.

            And it may not be just the ISPs. Local to me the District Attorney is prosecuting t

    • by Shakrai (717556) *

      leading me to wonder if there is actually a note in my account that has me marked as a high-traffic user.

      I wouldn't be surprised by that at all.

      In the same vain, what amuses me is how I could call Roadrunner, whine about the price being too high and get whatever "promotional" deal they were currently running (even if said deal was only for new customers). Amazingly enough, if I tried to make the same request on behalf of a friend who lived too far out to get DSL they would refuse. Never refused when the request was made for someone who had an alternative though.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Comcast also has been blocking VPN traffic - and denying it. It took a call from VP of IT with a threat to pull all corporate business before they relented and stopped this in my area.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah, when I upgraded my machine and put a new MAC on Comcast's network, the speeds were incredible for a few hours; I had been previously experiencing disconnects left and right when downloading torrents. The same thing happened: they shifted me to a different subnet, and my connection turned to mush again.
      • Sounds like the trick with Comcast is to auto-generate a new MAC each time your DHCP lease runs out. I guess this would be a bit tricky with a router, but maybe someone could write something for the flashable ones?
    • by turing_m (1030530)
      You are the ISP customer equivalent of the 200kg guy who wears an overcoat with 10 deep pockets and starves himself all day before wandering into an "All you can eat!" buffet. I think it was only a matter of time before either truth in advertising started happening or the 'devil customers' as one commentor called them started getting the short end of the stick.
      • by AsnFkr (545033)
        I don't really mind that they were upset with my "abuse of the line", I just wish they had sent a dang letter or called me or something to tell me to knock it off instead of just screwing with me until I went away. If they had been upfront about it, I would have throttled back on the bandwidth usage. In my new residence I keep the line capped at 45.k up (as opposed to the max of 100~ish) to stop the same thing from happening again. So far, so good.
        • by turing_m (1030530)
          I agree. They have chosen to lie and say that they have more bandwidth than they have. So their only real option is to do something illegal but plausibly deniable. Unless stopped, their superior money extraction practices will ensure that they cannibalize the other operators until there are none left who do not shape.
    • What's strange is how the customer service peons take the company's side on this kind of stuff--every single time.

      People who work for bad companies tend to fit in there.
      • What's strange is how the customer service peons take the company's side on this kind of stuff--every single time.

        People who work for bad companies tend to fit in there.

        It's not so strange... it's called either (a) keeping your job (and they dont have a high retention rate), and/or (b) not knowing much (technically) beyond what the support docs on their screen tell them and thus not even realizing they are facilitating in this.

        A perfect example was when I was a tech at CompUSA and we called HP to order a part. No, we didnt call the normal HP support line, we had a "Vendor Only" number.

        US: "Hi, I'm calling because we need a new power supply for an HP Pavilion Piece of

        • The last time I heard, call center employees have an average of about 6 months of shelf life - w/ fewer than 10% surviving 2 years. When I did it, I was being paid dick to be yelled at for 8 hours a day & solve an average of 48 tech support calls a day. (3 minutes of mandatory script reading/user verification & 7 minutes to do a full phone diagnosis on why Bambi Bubbles & her 2 braincells can't get on line)

          As tech support I got a total of 3 death threats & at least 1 threat of violence week

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      This kind of behavior actually makes more sense from a Comcast perspective.

      Not that I agree with it mind you, it's simply the cheaper alternative when
      faced with bandwidth limiting or expanding your infrastructure.

      If you can identify what may cause serious headaches for your network
      and / or your available bandwidth you are simply one step closer to
      making the call to minimize it's effect by whatever means you have available.

      In this case, the degradation of the P2P applications in the hope that
      the masses ' g
      • As much as I hate to say it, the major ISP's NEED some regulation or oversight in how they provide service.

        No. The major ISPs need to have their government-granted monopolies disallowed. In most cases, Comcast or some other company manages to influence local legislation in such a way that they are the only ones in the area permitted to lay wire (or fiber). _That_ is what needs to stop. The pressures of real competition would make these providers work to keep customers, as opposed to deliberately abusin

    • ... instead of "blocking" some customers they simapily drove them to bad service so they would leave.

      If the Comcast higher-ups in your area subscribe to the idea of "churn" (and there's very little reason to doubt they are, since a company of that size most likely has a significant number of Harvard MBAs), then that's exactly what happened. You, a high-traffic user, would most likely go elsewhere if your service smelled worse than a 4-day-old used gym sock. While they use methods to squelch your torrents th

  • Sigh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Fatal67 (244371) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @07:11PM (#23177126)
    You would hope the chairman of the FCC wouldn't be so clueless. Well, whoever told him the things he is repeating at least.

    Anyone that has actually configured a sandvine box knows very well that you can set rules to run at any time they want. Anyone even minimally monitoring their network knows when their network is congested and can apply rules during those times.

    To say that the sandvine isn't network aware is false. You would think that the chairman would have contacted the manufacturer or at least had an aide go to the website.

    • by pfleming (683342)
      So are you saying that Comcast wasn't arbitrarily blocking traffic and that their routers were aware of where the congestion really occurred and that the RST packets only flowed where "appropriate"? Or maybe it doesn't matter if you can configure a sandvine box to do this or not - they were just picking on a single protocol to drop RST packets into the line for.
      • by Fatal67 (244371)
        I'm implying that when the chairman gets in front of the senate and tells them what the capabilities of a piece of equipment are, he shouldn't lie or be that wrong.

        I was stating nothing about how they were used in the case. I don't know if they configured it to perform as you state, but they could have. Which is opposite to what he stated.

        What he says the box cannot do is one of the reasons the box was sold. If I were sandvine, I'd make sure he corrected that issue.

        • "I don't know if they configured it to perform as you state, but they could have."

          If the box wasn't configured in such a way, why would the chairman need to tiptoe through the tulips? As deployed at Comcast, apparently, Sandvine isn't aware of congestion, instead filtering certain protocols. Not having enough information to know what methods Sandvine uses to determine congestion, relying on snmp alerts or whatnot, one comes to the conclusion that Comcast either wanted widespread filtering or was too lazy to
      • Comcast is actually are doing just what has been alleged.

        Traffic Management

        Manage Growing Bandwidth Demands. Ensure Subscriber Satisfaction.

        File-sharing traffic continues to dominate service provider networks despite earlier suggestions that Peer-to-Peer (P2P) applications would diminish with emerging online trends and industry pressure. This popular technology has become a mass-market application and remains a key driver for broadband adoption in today's competitive market.

        The implication for se

  • This is all so obvious and expected, that I'd go so far as to say that it really isn't news.
  • by BitHive (578094) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @08:03PM (#23177434) Homepage

    Last month I got a phone call from a Comcast robot telling me my account was past due. At the time I did not realize that an autopayment had gone through 7 days earlier, so I immediately went and paid my balance online.

    A few days later my bank calls and tells me one of my accounts is overdrawn. Not Comcast's fault, but I ask the bank rep--did the autopayment actually go through? Yes it did.

    So I got on a live chat with a Comcast support agent who tells me that I was not double-billed, I was just charged twice for the same amount successfully. He was not authorized to issue a credit from his "location" so I called the billing department, where a rep told me the billing department does not have the ability to change autopayment settings.

    When I mentioned the robot call that I should never have received and asked if he could tell a manager to look into it, his tone of voice conveyed such disbelief and confusion that at first I thought I'd misspoke and asked him what kind of underwear he had on or something. Then he tried to sell me phone service.

    Coincidence?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's funny that the chairman of the FCC gets involved when a protocol that is primarily used for copyright violation gets throttled, but nobody cares about the way Comcast manipulates SMTP traffic, as they have for many years.

    The semi-random port-blocking on 25 that they do often seems designed to optimize the ability of worms and viruses to spread while simultaneously forcing all legitimate traffic through their (failure prone) mailservers.

    I had a lot of conversations with them about it and eventually gave
  • Why can't they do it the way Frame Relay's work. Give you a bandwidth that you are willing to pay for. Then anything over that Bandwidth is marked with DE. If the network get congested, anything marked DE is dropped. The only thing is the Comcast would have to stop overselling the bandwidth.
  • If you have VoIP through another company than Comcast but have Comcast as your internet, they will block that at times as well! Not only is this bad customer service, It's CENSORSHIP!

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