Saturday, October 20, 2007


Comcasts President, Interactive Division, lies about BitTorrent discrimination

An Information Week article yesterday describes Comcast's president of its interactive division explaining why Comcast discriminates against BitTorrent and other "P2P" applications. The article says:
Banse defended Comcast's use of management technology, reported Friday by the Associated Press, to reduce the impact users of file-sharing networks, such as BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella, have on overall traffic on the cable company's pipe. While these users make up a small percentage of Comcast's subscriber base, they account for a large majority of the traffic, Banse said.

"There is the hyperbole and the reality of what we call excessive use," Banse said. While 99.9% of Comcast customers get access to the Internet without interference, the 0.1% that fit into the category of excessive use have to be managed. "In the (course) of our management of that excessive use, we call the customers and offer them the commercial service," she said.
If that's correct, then the AP would have had to do 1000 trials to get one instance of discrimination. In fact, the AP tests found two out of three tests blocked, with the third one severely degraded (started after a 10 minute delay). Then further (unspecified number of) tests were also blocked. That's waaaaay more than 1 in 1000.

So Banse is lying. Or totally clueless, which in her position is not excusable.

And there's waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better ways to handle "long tail" bandwidth hogs. (Uh, transparent, pre-announced, known usage caps, and tiered usage plans for starters.)

Thanks again to Dirk van der Woude for alerting me to this article.

UPDATE: If you're commenting, you might want to take a little peek at this blog's Policy on Comments.

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I don't know what the real percentage of affected customers is, but to be fair, he was talking about 0.1% of customers, not 0.1% of P2P users. Not all customers use P2P (though probably a lot more than 0.1%).
Sorry Matt, but if there's some kind of a priori restriction on what I can do in the future with my Internet connection, I damn sure **am** affected. Comcast has decreased the *option*value* of my connection.

It's as if somebody put a brick under my accelerator pedal that stops it half way to the floor and says it doesn't affect me because I never accelerate fast.

No, when Coimcast blocks certain apps, it hurts even the people who don't use those apps right now.
I don't understand why none of these ISPs just do the obvious thing, which is to charge for bandwidth. I pay for the amount of electricity and water I use, why not bandwidth? Then Comcast et. al. wouldn't have to play these ridiculous games.
It also impacts the actual legitimate users of P2P clients -- those downloading Linux distros, for example, people using BitTorrent Inc.'s legitimate service or the Azureus Vuze service, distros of things like Pendant Audio's HQ releases, people downloading a great many Creative Commons projects that are distributed via BitTorrent, the entirety of Jamendo's growing catalog (which goes out through BitTorrent and eMule.)

But the almighty buck carries the day, and God forbid anyone should get anywhere near using the service they're paying for.

Incidentally, why is this becoming a big deal again? Comcast has been known to be shaping and screwing with BitTorrent traffic for quite some time.
Hey no question comcast has reduced the value of your connection.

The point though is your accusation (a strong one) about lying or being uninformed is unfounded.
My strong point -- that she's lying or clueless -- is indeed founded. It is firmly founded on the fact that she's not a bystander; she's president of the very Comcast division in which Comcast's discriminatory behavior is occurring, so (a) she should either know about it or make a clarification within hours (as soon as her advisors have had time to tell her what's really happening), and (b) she should not say one-in-a-thousand, when it is apparently happening to every customer (except those in the Boston area so far).

I know we live in the US in a time when a president can mouth falsehoods and distortions repeatedly for years, but that does not make such presidential behavior acceptable.

Anonymous (and even signed) comments should offer supporting logic, else I might reject them.
Some ISPs do charge for bandwith over and above their caps. More accurately, they tend to overcharge - often more than a 600% markup over their cost. It's not like there's a shortage of bandwidth.
"If that's correct, then the AP would have had to do 1000 trials to get one instance of discrimination."

No, that means that any trial the AP would conduct would have a 1 in 1000 chance of being an instance of "discrimination." That's a big difference. You could get three bad connections in a row, its just extremely unlikely.

I have used probably 50 Comcast connections in the last 5 years and never once run into a problem downloading torrents. I am even a "heavy" user.

I can't believe this has been such a big deal, I bet the guy didn't have his router properly set up and/or was running the windows firewall. Reporters aren't known for their tech-savyness after all.
And yet you restrict this blog's users by enabling comment moderation in addition to Blogger's CAPTCHA system? I smell a hypocrite...

I'm not the previous Anonymous commenter, but here's what they were talking about:

"While these users make up a small percentage of Comcast's subscriber base"
I have the commercial service (check my IP), and even I'm blocked at a max of about 44 kbps unless I encrypt the protocol. Comcast LIES.
I can see where Anonymous is coming from. You seem to be calling her a liar or clueless based on her one-in-a-thousand statement, but I don't think your interpretation of that statement is accurate, unless I'm missing the point.

She's not saying that one in a thousand file-sharing program users are affected. She's saying all users of those programs are affected, but those users only make up about one in a thousand of Comcast's overall customers.

This would NOT require the AP to perform 1000 tests before getting a single result. They were using BitTorrent for all of their test. EVERY attempt using file-sharing programs would be affected, and it was.

If you're going to call the Comcast president a liar, then it should be based on something like Comcast lying (by omission) to their customers. To "secretly" block certain types of programs that users expect to be able to use constitutes a lie. This is the kind of information that should be clearly stated up-front when users sign up for Comcast service.
Only in the broadband industry is the fact that there are people out there who like your service so much that they want to use lots and lots of it seen as a problem. People who use more bandwidth than average are also people who would likely be willing to pay more for their connection. "Bandwidth hogs" should be seen, not as a problem, but as an opportunity.

Here's a radical idea: if your users want more bandwidth sell it to them. Of course, that would mean admitting that your basic internet service is not really unlimited. It seems Comcast would rather lie to their customers than sell them what they want. Just another indication of how sorely we need more competition in the broadband market here in the US.
Different areas of the Comcast network have had this blocking come online at different times, hence the discrepancies noted by some people going "my Bittorent is blocked!" and others saying "mine is working just fine -- you must have your router set incorrectly".

In my area (Maryland), the blocking started less than a month ago.
Heck, even game companies are using P2P legitly. Steam uses it to distro files and so does WoW for their patches. Last time I checked, there are 4 million WoW users alone and probably tons more on Steam playing CS.
I'm in Toronto so we don't have Comcast, but we do have Rogers, which is the leading (and essentially only) provider of cable-based internet.

They're infamous around here for throttling speeds of torrent users and give the exact same reasons as this Comcast representative.

The reason they're so hated here, is that despite offering tiered pricing and packaging you will still get throttled. So even if you use bandwidth more then the average IM-ing browser-only user and are willing to get the top-tier package for $40 more per month, you still get throttled.

On top of that, the tiers are essentially implied, but not standard. In that even if you are paying for one speed, there is no guarantee you will get it. I pay for the 2nd highest of 4 tiers, but often only get the speed advertised for the 3rd highest. When I called and complained, I was told that it can fluctuate, and isn't guaranteed.
Um....I'm pretty certain World of Warcraft updates run off of a similar distributed P2P, if not actually BitTorrent itself. And that right there is not a small number of users. They aren't the only ones...a lot of game companies seem to distribute patches through torrent technologies.

Based on that alone, I'd be pretty chary about accepting her word that this is only going to affect a small number of users.
The previous comments are correct. Though Comcast is basically lying by selling "unlimited" internet use and then interfering with that usage, Banse is not lying here in the way that you say. What she says is that only 0.1% of all users will be affected, not 0.1% of P2P users. Therefore, it is just plain wrong that AP's tests should have come up negative 999 out of a thousand times, as that would only be the case if the 0.1% was randomly chosen, which of course would be even worse.

If anything is misleading about Banse's statement, it is that she is implying that only users who use "excessive" amounts of bandwidth will be affected, while the AP and EFF's tests show that all those who use P2P, regardless of how much, will be affected.

Clearly Comcast is doing some sneaky stuff. There's no need to lay claim to lies that they're not telling.
Fanatics of the P2P super power gave birth to the devil.
It is the strongest P2P file sharing system Share NT.
And, Because UDP is used, even the band limiting that the internet service provider does is exceeded.

Share (P2P) - Wikipedia
Share NT -
I am late to the discussion; perhaps my comments will be lost.
Sharing information is the purpose of the internet. Comcast's policy runs counter to that. When telephone lines are clogged everyone gets a busy signal. The phone company does not shut off individual lines because of heavy use; they increase capacity.

Another instance of Comcast policy making information less accessible:
Here on Cape Cod, Comcast recently moved CSPAN-2 from channel 45 to 247. In most communities the CSPAN channels are available in the basic cable package (as far as I know.) Here they are not. Now two CSPAN channels are only available on the digital tier. Making this unique, indepth, and certainly the most fair and impartial news service more expensive and inconvenient to access.

Comcast should simply be providing the media for communication. Anybody can take pen to paper and distribute the result via press or mail. There should not be discrimnation about who is able to use and benefit by what media, or how often.

steve paris
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