Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Comcast, perhaps others, may be involved in manipulating P2P streams to prevent customer "abuse", said to violate net neutrality


ABC affiliate WJLA in Arlington VA today reported that Comcast did acknowledge tinkering with extremely large file sharing transmissions in order, it says, to avoid excessive bandwidth use and inconvenience or disruption to other customers who are staying within the parameters of more normal usage. Some consumer groups of law professors have complained that Comcast is violating "network neutrality."

It's possible for an ISP or telecommunications provider to programmatically insert packets into a P2P file-sharing data stream to appear to come from the user when they actually come from the ISP. These techniques may have been known for over a decade, as a textbook by James Martin on telecommunications written in the early 1990s explains how these techniques can work.

The WJLA story is called "Comcast Defends Internet Practices" and the link is here.

Comcast high speed Internet service sometimes seems to slow down during the middle of business weekdays (at least from my experience). The practice reported by WJLA could be going on to improve ordinary customer service during these times of heavier use. Cable companies like Comcast and Cox have experienced large residential growth and bandwidth use increase in recent years. More an more media companies (like Netflix and Logo) offer movies for viewing online, but this activity doesn't require P2P or BitTorrent, which is what seems to worry ISPs the most.

Electronic Frontier Foundation had published papers on Comcast and other ISP's, as noted on this blog last December (link).

Earlier on this blog (Jan. 26), I discussed the most recent Network Neutrality proposal, S215, link here. It would not appear that S215 would prohibit good-faith efforts from ISP's to prevent very usually high traffic from a small percentage of users.

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