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Comcast: Our BitTorrent busting is 'best in class'

FCC probe? What FCC probe?

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Just weeks after the US Federal Communications Commission said it would investigate claims that Comcast was surreptitiously throttling P2P file-sharing traffic, the mega American ISP has issued new terms of service, telling customers it likes to practice "reasonable network management".

These terms of service seem to mirror a footnote to the FCC's 2005 Internet Policy Statement - a bit of government wisdom Comcast has used time and again to justify its BitTorrent busting.

Way back in May last year, an independent network researcher named Robb Topolski revealed that Comcast was preventing users from "seeding" BitTorrents and other P2P files. When one machine attempted to trade a file with another, Topolski's tests showed, the ISP would send a duped "reset flag" to break the peer-to-peer connection.

Speaking to The Reg, Comcast flatly denied this. But five months later, The Associated Press confirmed Topolski's tests, and Comcast changed its tune. Sort of. The ISP admitted to "managing traffic" in an effort to keep its customers in very good spirits.

"Our customers use the Internet for downloading and uploading files, watching movies and videos, streaming music, sharing digital photos, accessing numerous peer-to-peer sites and thousands of applications online," read the statement the company tossed our way. "We have a responsibility to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience and we use the latest technologies to manage our network so that they can continue to enjoy these applications."

Then, in early November, members of the SaveTheInternet coalition formally asked the FCC to crack down on Comcast's BitTorrent busting, claiming the ISP is in violation of the commission's Internet Policy Statement, which seeks to protect the rights of American internet users.

"In 2005, when the FCC adopted an order reclassifying wireline broadband as an information service, it sought to ensure that network providers of Internet service, like phone and cable companies, would not violate network neutrality," SaveTheInternet said. "Consumers are entitled to access all applications, services, and content of the consumer’s choice, and entitled to competition among providers of networks, applications, services, and content."

But the FCC's policy statement includes a footnote that says ISPs have the right to practice "reasonable network management." SaveTheInternet claimed this doesn't apply when an ISP "intentionally degrades" net apps, but Comcast immediately sought shelter under this footnote.

"We engage in reasonable network management to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience, and we do so consistently with FCC policy," read a canned statement from Comcast executive vice president David Cohen. "As the FCC noted in its policy statement in 2005, all of the principles to encourage broadband deployment and preserve the nature of the Internet are 'subject to reasonable network management.' The Commission clearly recognized that network management is necessary by ISPs for the good of all customers.”

Well, the Commission has finally decided to weigh in. Last month, at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), chairman Kevin Martin said his people would, at some undisclosed time in the future, investigate Comcast's treatment of peer-to-peer traffic.

Little more than two weeks later, Comcast made the first change to its term of service in two years, adding that reference to "reasonable network management practices".

"The company uses reasonable network management practices that are consistent with industry standards," the terms say. "Comcast tries to use tools and technologies that are minimally intrusive and, in its independent judgment guided by industry experience, among the best in class. Of course, the company's network management practices will change and evolve along with the uses of the Internet and the challenges and threats on the Internet."

There you have it: Comcast's BitTorrent bagging is "best in class."

When we spoke to Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas, he denied that the revised terms of service had anything to do with the FCC's investigation. "Contrary to what others are saying, this was just a clarification of our policy, just standard day-to-day changes," he said. "Our terms are revised from time to time to further articulate our terms for our customers.

What about the "reasonable network management practices" bit? That isn't a response to the FCC investigation? "No," said Douglas. "Other ISPs have terms of service and they get updated from time-to-time." ®

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