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Comcast cops to BitTorrent busting

Eight months later

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Eight months after an independent researcher revealed that Comcast was secretly throttling BitTorrent and other P2P traffic, the beleaguered American ISP has at last admitted that's exactly what it's doing.

Of course, Comcast thinks this throttling is one great idea. And the company continues to deny it did this for months without properly notifying customers.

In a new filing with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Comcast says it "manages the use of certain P2P protocols in a minimally intrusive way, and only when necessary, based on purely objective criteria".

The filing is a response to petitions lobbed at the FCC by various members of the SaveTheInternet coalition in early November. By early January, the FCC agreed to investigate Comcast's "network management", and a public notice was soon filed by the commission's Wireline Competition Bureau.

Comcast explains that its BitTorrent busting is "not based on the content of the files users are sharing or the identity of the users who are doing the sharing." And it's responsible for all those italics.

But then the company describes exactly when - and to a certain extent how - it "manages" P2P traffic. It's techniques -

  • only affect the protocols that have a demonstrated history of generating excessive burdens on the network
  • only manage those protocols during periods of heavy network traffic
  • only manage uploads
  • only manage uploads when the customer is not simultaneously downloading (i.e., when the customer’s computer is most likely unattended) (“unidirectional sessions” or “unidirectional uploads”)
  • only delay those protocols until such time as usage drops below an established threshold of simultaneous unidirectional sessions.

So there you have it. Comcast throttles your BitTorrent uploads only when you're most interested in uploading them.

As the company has said before, it believes that this network management is "reasonable" and that it is "fully consistent" with the FCC's 2005 Internet Policy Statement.

Certainly, you can argue that Comcast is well within its rights. But what gets us is the company's inability to openly discuss its practices.

When an independent researcher first revealed that Comcast was throttling P2P traffic, the company flatly denied this was going on. Then, late last week, when we ran a story about new changes to the ISPs terms of service, or High-Speed Internet Acceptable Use Policy, the company denied that these changes were a direct response to the ongoing questions concerning its network "management".

But then, just days later, in its FCC filing, the company has this to say:

Comcast recognizes the importance of providing its customers with appropriate disclosures about the services they purchase. Accordingly, Comcast’s customer service agreements and policies have always informed Comcast customers that broadband capacity is not unlimited, and that the network is managed for the benefit of all customers. Nonetheless, in a continuing effort to ensure that consumers have the information they need, Comcast recently updated its High-Speed Internet Acceptable Use Policy (“AUP”) and Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) to provide greater transparency in how it manages its network.

Nonetheless, when we spoke to the company again today, it again denied that it spent that last several months pulling the wool over its customers eyes - and it again denied that its new terms of service were a direct response to the FCC's investigation.

Keep it up, Comcast. This is great theatre. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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