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Comcast Defends Role As Internet Traffic Cop 425

RCTrucker7 writes "Comcast said yesterday that it purposely slows down some traffic on its network, including some music and movie downloads, an admission that sparked more controversy in the debate over how much control network operators should have over the Internet. In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, Comcast said such measures — which can slow the transfer of music or video between subscribers sharing files, for example — are necessary to ensure better flow of traffic over its network. In defending its actions, Comcast stepped into one of the technology industry's most divisive battles. Comcast argues that it should be able to direct traffic so networks don't get clogged; consumer groups and some Internet companies argue that the networks should not be permitted to block or slow users' access to the Web."
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Comcast Defends Role As Internet Traffic Cop

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  • Re:Slowdown (Score:3, Informative)

    by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:11PM (#22406944)
    Perhaps Comcast will experience a 'slowdown' in its profits...

    That said, FiOS can't be rolled out fast enough. Sadly, most people have either cable or DSL and sometimes only cable as a choice for broad band.

    I'd love to vote with my wallet, but its either them or dial up.
  • WSJ doesn't get it. (Score:5, Informative)

    by robkill ( 259732 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:12PM (#22406958)
    It's distortions, statements, and mindsets like this [wsj.com] that have to be refuted.

    From the editorial:

    Big broadband companies are headed for a clash with Washington over whether consumers have a right to get as much as they want from the Internet, as fast as they want it, without paying extra for the privilege.
    The editorial goes on to conflate neutral treatment of packets with "neutral pricing" (their term for flat rate).
  • by The Analog Kid ( 565327 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:12PM (#22406972)
    They advertise *up to* a certain rate, they don't guarantee that you will get that rate, nor could they, transfer speed depends on things that are not all in their control, like the upload speed of the server your computer is downloading from.
  • I don't get it... (Score:3, Informative)

    by wattrlz ( 1162603 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:14PM (#22406984)
    Isn't this a form of unauthorized wiretapping?
  • Re:Slowdown (Score:3, Informative)

    by fohat ( 168135 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:14PM (#22406990) Homepage
    Perhaps people have more choices than they are aware. For example, my friend is in an area where comcast has not run their cables and he's too far from the Central Office for DSL. Therefore he called Sprint and obtained a broadband wireless card which is plugged directly into a router (no laptop required). Granted the speed isn't as fast as Comcast, however he gets about 1 Megabit down and 600 Kilobits per second upspeed regularly (with very few connection interruptions). There's also Satellite internet (which of course is a bit more restricted than most people like).
    So there are viable alternatives to Cable Internet, although they can be slightly more expensive.
  • by TXISDude ( 1171607 ) * on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:31PM (#22407300)
    provide acceptable levels of service for all of their customers. Yes, they are a monoploy, because Cable franchises are awarded by area and for the vast majority of customers there are no real alternatives. I live in a major city (Houston) and because of where I live, I have 1 choice for high speed internet - cable. DSL is "coming soon", as is fiber and other options, but right now - if I want high speed internet I have cable. And there the city/state has decided who my provider is going to be. It used to be Time Warner, but they swapped turfs with Comcast recently in Texas and I became a Comcast customer - not by choice, but by governmental decision. Just like the old days of the regulated telephone monopoly, the customer is not free to choose, and hence to maintain some level of accountability in a closed market - regulation is required. If it were a free market, different rules could apply, but it is not a free market, and the cable companies know that. They will try to do whatever they can to maximize profits in their closed markets, and it is up to government regulators to look out for customer interests. Unfortunately, this isn't happening. Two real choices: 1) open cable up to complete free and open competition - each consumer can choose their own provider. Unfortunately for technical reasons, this really isn't very easy, or possible to do. 2) Regulate the monopoly, with appropriate rules on service, pricing, availability. The problem here is one of who decides the "appropriate" aspect, and on that issue our government regulators have been woefully inadequate. Time for public utility boards to stand up and do their jobs.
  • Not traffic shaping (Score:5, Informative)

    by Akaihiryuu ( 786040 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:36PM (#22407362)
    For the trillionth time...what Comcast SAYS they are doing is NOT what they are doing. Traffic shaping is fine, as long as it does not differentiate by source. Even if they were just throttling or "slowing down" bittorrent, it wouldn't be nearly as bad as what they are doing. They are doing man-in-the-middle attacks on bittorrent connections, and actively impersonating one of the parties in the connection. This is actually illegal.
  • by Kryptonian Jor-El ( 970056 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:41PM (#22407440)
    obviously you aren't a comcast subscriber then. I've been dealing with this shit for about a year now.

    Comcast sends fake packets to both the sending and receiving end of the transmission telling the programs that the other end has closed transmission. AKA, my upload speeds are virtually 0. well, when you don't upload, you can't download as fast. I'd love to host a torrent for a while to help keep the torrent network alive, but how can i do that if my upload ability is non-existant.

    Next, my web surfing is severely limited when downloading torrents now. It takes a few minutes to load my email while DLing a torrent, no matter what the speed. Hell, it doesn't matter whether I download and surf on the same computer or not, the speed is still shit. I didn't have this problem before when i had adelphia (which comcast bought out).

    I pay for UNLIMITED service. Unlimited means that there shall be no limits. Either give me that, or charge me less.

    The funny thing is, the day that the FCC or whoever said they were going to investigate comcast's throttling, they had stopped. It soon resumed, but they stopped for a few days.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:45PM (#22407510) Homepage

    Yes, they have to do some traffic shaping, but it can be done better.

    If the problem is bandwidth hogging by individual residential users, the answer is probably some variation on fair queuing. There's class-based fair queueing in most Cisco edge routers; it just has to be used correctly.

    I'd argue that, for residential connections, you need only two basic classes of service - high bandwidth, high latency, and low-bandwidth, low latency. VoIP and real-time game transactions should be low-bandwidth, low-latency; everything else should be high-bandwidth, high latency.

    For the low-bandwidth, low-latency streams, the per-IP-address queue should have priority, but the maximum number of buffers on the queue should be deliberately limited. If you try to send too much too fast with low latency, you lose packets. The high-bandwidth, high-latency streams have lower priority but can buffer up to available router memory. That works for streaming video, music piracy, and similar non-time-critical loads.

    Note that putting a high precedence on a high-bandwidth stream increases the packet loss rate, so there's no win in doing that. VoIP should request high precedence, but video should not. Clever game developers should put a high precedence on the traffic that needs it, while letting the background traffic that loads assets run at a lower precedence.

    High-bandwidth, low-latency is really needed only for real-time interactive video, and that's a premium service, because it really does need more capacity behind it.

    Multiple consumers on the same cable segment contend for upstream bandwidth at the router that connects the cable segment to the larger network. That's where fair queuing has to be applied. Similarly, it has to be applied at the router that connects the backbone to the downlink to the cable segment. Fair queuing is only useful at choke points where the number of streams is limited, but the cable modem industry has exactly that situation.

    The cable industry problem, I suspect, is that many of the routers out on the pole are still too dumb to do this. This is a killer for P2P traffic, which saturates upstream bandwidth. Upstream bandwidth has to be properly queued at the router on the pole; it can't be managed from the head end of the cable system. The Comcast "fake RST" interference with connections was an attempt to deal with the problem from the head end, which is the wrong answer.

    If the players in cable and DSL would agree on policy in this area, or the FCC mandated a standard, cable performance would degrade gracefully under heavy load. Without idiocy like faking connection resets.

    A standard on residential IP precedence handling would be a big help. If application developers could rely on the rules, VoIP traffic would work better. Games could get better latency; only some game traffic, the actual user action traffic, needs high precedence. The background loading of game assets should be running at lower priority. When there's a penalty for requesting too much bandwidth at high precedence, it gets used properly.

    From a technical perspective, that's how to do "network neutrality".

  • Re:VPN Encryption (Score:3, Informative)

    by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:57PM (#22407706) Journal

    VPN tunnels are encrypted, Comcast or anyone else cannot selectively filter content out of an encrypted stream.

    I think you are blaming Comcast for a problem they did not (and could not) have created.
    Perhaps I was not clear. The AH (protocol 51) and ESP (protocol 50) traffic made it through. In this way, the tunnel was established. The isakmp (udp/500) packets (which carry the actual data) did not make it through. In other words, the encrypted stream was blocked.
  • by OptimusPaul ( 940627 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @12:59PM (#22407748)
    I am having the same problem right now.. I was uploading files to my website for a client and was throttled. One of the files happened to be a video file, a file that my client had the copyrights to. It slowed down what should have been a 10 minute upload into a 4 hour snorefest. It seriously cripped my ability to do business.
  • What do I pay for? (Score:2, Informative)

    by adameros ( 851468 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @01:09PM (#22407860) Homepage
    I'm of the mindset that when I buy bandwidth I should be able to use that bandwidth as I see fit.

    The problem is that Comcast has over sold their bandwidth by too large of a margin, and rather than owning up to their own failure to plan for the future they are restricting how people use the bandwidth they bought.

    The most disturbing thing, to me, is when Comcast forged packets to terminate file transfers. It's one thing to use QoS to massage the network flow, it is another thing all together to pretend to be a client or server and send bogus packets in someone else's name.

    QoS is mildly bad. Forging packets is just plain wrong.
  • by ACMENEWSLLC ( 940904 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @02:01PM (#22408556) Homepage
    What I don't understand is why everyone is so big on rate limiting, versus priority queuing?

    If Comcast has 100Mb/s of bandwidth for 500 subscribers (just making up numbers) Their 100Mb/s pipe is not 100% full 100% of the time. Prioritize my P2P traffic to be low priority. That way, if Joe Blow is trying to pull up his sports scores on ESPN, and the pipe is full, then my P2P is put on low priority to burst his ESPN page through. If it's 3AM and it's just a bunch of P2P freaks downloading over an otherwise unused pipe, let us have it.

    TCP/IP has an issue with slow start. If the pipe truly is 100% utilized, it will take some time for the QoS to down shift my P2P to allow the ESPN page through. So I can understand a hard limit that 100% of all P2P/Movies/Downloads shall take no more than 75% of the available bandwidth.

    Anyway, I run a company Firewall & that is what we do. Works very well as long as you have the proper ratio of bandwidth to users.
  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @02:34PM (#22409076) Journal

    You wouldn't be agreeable even if they sold you that service in that manner from the start?

    No, I wouldn't. Because I think a per-byte model will destroy innovation on the internet. Besides which, I've made the argument in the past that it's not the bytes themselves that cost money -- it's the underlying capacity needed to transfer them. A 100mbits pipe costs the same whether or not you are using it.

    Selling tiered service is one way to address that. I personally have DSL and they provide 6 levels of service from 256k up to a 15mb option.

    I'd be all for tiered service if the prices were kept competitive.

    Cable does have different issues implementing a tiered system

    There's nothing stopping them from doing this. The only issue they have is the capacity of the shared last mile. But cable-modems already have provisions for 'capping' the amount of bandwidth that you can get.

  • by Pharmboy ( 216950 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @02:58PM (#22409480) Journal
    I'd agrue that it's NOT a whole different ballgame. Both are consumers paying for access.

    And you would be showing that you don't know anything about internet access. Business class access comes with a guarantee of throughput, a guarantee of uptime (typically 4 nines, or 99.99% uptime) and a different level of service. Otherwise, we wouldn't be paying $850 a month for 3mbit/3mbit service (two bonded T1s), when 6mbit service is only $50 for homes.

    Residential service doesn't cover fully saturating the available bandwidth because it is shared: I can saturate my T1s all I want. Residential doesn't require 2 or 3 year service contracts, but business class often does. Residential service doesn't guarantee to get your internet access back up in 60 minutes or less, even if they have to come string new copper or fiber, but they do on mine. Residential Terms of Service are NOT the same as business class in any shape, form or fashion. The fact that there may be limits on a lower grade of service (residential) shouldn't come as a surprise considering how cheap it is compared to business class.

    Yes, that sucks, that is the breaks. If you don't like the limits, you can always go get business class service in your home. Then you don't have to worry about any limitations.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @03:04PM (#22409576)

    Upgrading their network isn't an option?
    Oh for God's sake. Do any of you whinging about "network upgrades" have any idea how expensive it is to maintain a cable plant? Not to mention the time involved in swapping out nodes, performing node splits, upgrading drops to 1 GHz, etc. From here [lightreading.com]:

    North America's largest MSO [Comcast] said it plans to spend a record $5.7 billion on cable plant upgrades and new service launches in 2007

    This is not like putting a new line card in a router. This is upgrading or adding thousands of devices in hundreds of miles of physical infrastructure in a single system.
  • Re:Port 25 egress (Score:3, Informative)

    by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:00PM (#22412034) Homepage Journal

    Here's the issue. I'm all for net neutrality, myself. But a legitimate argument against it is that it would eliminate the ability of ISPs to block port 25 egress, which would lead to a multiplication of the number of spam bots out there. So do we say that ISPs must be net-neutral except for TCP port 25? It's the camel's nose.

    Net Neutrality has exactly nothing to do with port blocking.

    Net Neutrality does not stop a carrier from blocking certain traffic. It only says that traffic rules cannot be applied with prejudice i.e. You can't single out individual sites/customers for 'special treatment'.

    Everybody does QoS and transparent proxying, and the Net is better for it.

    We need to be clear about the problem, and we're not being. So let's try to keep this topic simple:

    The Net Neutrality Debate [sic] is about letting carriers decide which sites and services get preferential service, based either on corporate allegiance or on the service's ability to pay whatever the extortion rate du jour is.

  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:00PM (#22414776) Journal
    I would not have a problem with real traffic shaping, but that's not what they are doing. If they were really just shaping traffic then there would be "prime-times" when the traffic is adjusted down so www and pop travel easier, then at might things would open up so the cron and scheduled tasks could download updates and running BitTorrent full-bore would be over-looked. Instead if you open a BitTorrent client your throttled, period, the whole IP is throttled. If you run encrypted BitTorrent they send resets to any connection open too long, that means if your playing an online game your going to get random freezes and your IM program is going to get kicked off because they are sending out RST packets shotgun style.

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake