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BitTorrent busts Comcast BitTorrent busting

As Comcast ignores reality

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Unhappy that Comcast is busting BitTorrents, BitTorrent has decided to bust this BitTorrent busting.

On Friday, as reported by TorrentFreak, a quartet of BitTorrent developers - including three staffers at BitTorrent Inc. - proposed a new extension to the popular P2P protocol that would circumvent Comcast's self-described "reasonable network management."

Last May, an independent researcher named Robb Topolski revealed that the big-name American ISP is preventing users from "seeding" BitTorrents and other P2P files. When one machine finishes downloading a file and promptly attempts to upload that file to another machine, Comcast sends out a duped "reset flag" that breaks this peer-to-peer connection.

The proposed BitTorrent extension would use encryption, or "obfuscation," to keep Comcast from pulling this trick. "The goal is to prevent internet service providers and other network administrators from blocking or disrupting BitTorrent traffic connections," the proposal reads.

Will Comcast come back with a new system that works around this workaround? We wouldn't be surprised. The company continues to insist that its BitTorrent busting is merely an effort to "manage" its network, arguing that such "management" is well within the rules laid down by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

"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," the company once told us.

But don't let Comcast fool you. The BitTorrent community should do everything it can to bust Comcast's BitTorrent busting. And so should the FCC.

Smoke, Mirrors, and FCC filings

Just last week, in a new filing with the FCC, Comcast said that it only "manages" P2P uploads - and that it only "manages" uploads "when the customer is not simultaneously downloading."

This has led some to wonder why Comcast has received such harsh criticism for its behavior. "Who cares if Comcast prevents P2P uploads?" these voices say. "Users can still download whatever they want." But clearly, these voices don't understand BitTorrent.

For one thing, if Comcast prevents its users from uploading files, that prevents all sorts of other people from downloading. "In a peer to peer network, for every single byte being uploaded, there is someone immediately downloading that byte. If Comcast stops or delays an upload, then somebody else's download is also stopped or delayed," Topolski says. "If every ISP immediately decided to block P2P uploads, then all P2P downloads immediately stop."

But that's the small point here. If Comcast prevents its users from uploading, it also throttles the downloads of those very users. "BitTorrent communities often require a byte-for-a-byte exchange to ensure that its members give at least as much as they take," Topolski continues. "A download may take 10 minutes to complete, but it takes 60 minutes to 'pay back' those bytes because of the slower upload speeds provided by most ISPs.

"By cutting off connections once they have finished downloading, Comcast is preventing these community members from maintaining a fair '1:1 ratio' standing in these communities. Because these community members have not yet 'paid back' the bytes that they previously downloaded, they cannot start any new downloads."

Define download

What's more, Topolski insists, Comcast isn't telling the truth when it says that it only interferes with uploads when users aren't simultaneously downloading. "Comcast starts interfering as soon as any of your downloads switches to an upload mode," he explains. "It doesn't wait until all your downloads are done.

So, let's say you're downloading two files: File A and File B. Once File A has finished downloading, Comcast will immediately prevent it from being uploaded - even if File B is still downloading.

Yes, some will say that Comcast has a right to manage its network, to keep traffic flowing smoothly. But that doesn't mean it has no choice but to bag BitTorrents.

"The question is what does management mean?" Topolski says. "Does it mean not selling more accounts than you're able to supply with your available bandwidth? That's definitely a form of management."

You could also argue that Comcast is a business, that it has to make money. Fine. But at the very least, it should tell its customers what's what.

When Robb Topolski first told the world that Comcast was bagging BitTorrents, the company vehemently denied the allegation. A good eight months passed before it admitted to "delaying" P2P traffic - and even this was half a confession.

Here's hoping that new BitTorrent extension arrives tout de suite. ®

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