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Comcast to pay $16m over BitTorrent busting

While denying everything. Natch

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Comcast has agreed to pay $16m to settle a class action suit brought against the company after it was caught secretly busting BitTorrents.

Filed by a California man in November 2007, the suit claims that Comcast's BitTorrent busting violated federal computer-fraud laws and user contracts. In a proposed settlement, the US cable giant denies the claims, but the company points out it has since revised what it still insists on calling its "management of P2P."

Independent networking guru Robb Topolski first observed Comcast's BitTorrent busting in early 2007, and when word of his P2P tests first hit the tech press that August, Comcast flatly denied the practice. But by October, the Associated Press had confirmed that the ISP was preventing users from "seeding" P2P files - i.e. making them available to other users.

Comcast continued to say it was "managing" traffic, not blocking it - even after the US Federal Communications Commission sanctioned the cable giant for violating its 2005 internet policy statement. The cable giant went so far as to sue the FCC in the US Court of Appeals.

Clearly, Comcast was playing with words. In its world, sending duped reset flags to break peer-to-peer connections is not a means of blocking file transfers. For the longest time, the company insisted it was merely throttling P2P sharing during "periods of heavy network traffic." But after a year of scrutiny, Comcast admitted it was clipping P2P connections around the clock - as Topolski's tests had shown.

"Comcast's current P2P management is triggered when the number of P2P uploads in a given area for a particular P2P protocol reaches a certain, pre-determined level, regardless of the level of overall network traffic at that time, and regardless of the time of day when the applicable P2P protocol threshold is reached," the company said in an FCC filing.

To no one's surprise, the ongoing saga turned into a pie-throwing spat over net neutrality. But the real issue was customer fraud. Comcast wasn't giving users what it said it was giving them. Thus, the class action suit brought by Californian Jon Hart.

"Defendants have disseminated and continues to disseminate advertising, that they know or should reasonably know is false and misleading. This conduct includes, but is not limited to, promoting and advertising the fast speeds that apply to the Service without limitation, when, in fact, Defendants severely limit the speed of the Service for certain applications," the suit reads.

"It further includes Defendant's misrepresentations that their customers will enjoy 'unfettered access' to all internet applications, when, in fact, Defendants not only fetter certain applications, but completely block them."

Under pressure from the FCC - and public opinion - Comcast has since changed its "network management" setup, so that its throttling is protocol-agnostic. And bandwidth is now capped at 250GB a month for each user.

Under the proposed settlement, current or former Comcast high-speed Internet customers who either used or attempted to use Ares, BitTorrent, eDonkey, FastTrack, or Gnutella between April 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2008 or Lotus Notes between March 26, 2007 and Oct. 3, 2007 can receive a cash payment...of $16.

Jon Hart is set to take home $2,500. ®

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