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The end of net nuetrality.
January 8, 2008 8:38 PM   Subscribe

FCC to investigate Comcast's traffic-management practices. The AP and the EFF both have confirmed that they do interfere with some certain file sharing technologies. Previously.
posted by Mr_Zero (27 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
mods please remove the word "certain" from the original post.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:05 PM on January 8, 2008


Remember, the FCC is an arm of the same Bush administration that enlisted the nation's internet and phone companies to assist with the warrantless snooping of Americans' electronic communications.

That's kind of an odd aside. What does warrantless wiretapping have to do with illegal traffic shaping? Plus, they are entirely separate branches of the government. The Bush administration employed both Scooter Libby and Patrick Fitzgerald
posted by delmoi at 9:09 PM on January 8, 2008


Huh. That's interesting. Though I'm sure the folks responsible for creating and maintaining the BitTorrent infrastructure are pretty smart, and will be able to ultimately subvert things like this, I'm also glad I'm not a comcast customer.

Because, yeah, I'm not sure how I would otherwise be able to download the latest version of Fedora for my laptop very efficiently without BitTorrent software.
posted by localhuman at 9:25 PM on January 8, 2008


localhuman : "Because, yeah, I'm not sure how I would otherwise be able to download the latest version of Fedora for my laptop very efficiently without BitTorrent software."

That's bad, because, you know, if you're using BitTorrent you are downloading something illegal or copyrighted or even criminal and we're sure that if the rightful owners of this Fedora thing wanted you to download it they wouldn't be wanting you to do it with BitTorrent that, as we said, is only used to download illegal or copyrighted or even criminal things.
posted by nkyad at 9:47 PM on January 8, 2008


[offtopic] Spank you very much for misspelling "neutrality." Don't we have enough morons (in the White House) already?

[ontopic] BitTorrent == criminal? @see localhuman's previous post. It's depressingly naive to equate the two.
posted by whozyerdaddy at 10:00 PM on January 8, 2008


yeah. while using fedora, or open source software in general may not be criminal, it is unamerican!
posted by localhuman at 10:01 PM on January 8, 2008


i think nkyad was speaking tounge + cheek - outside.
posted by localhuman at 10:03 PM on January 8, 2008


[offtopic] Spank you very much for misspelling "neutrality." Don't we have enough morons (in the White House) already?

shit, neutrality, god damn it. You are right, I should be sterilized.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:07 PM on January 8, 2008


(I'm a Comcast subscriber due to lack of alternatives) Given the FCC's track record on ISP decisions I reflexively expect them to do whatever is worst for consumers (allow this to continue) at this point.

I suppose I should be grateful that they're even deigning to notice the problems of actual normal people, but I'm pretty sure it's just so they can formally green-light Comcast continuing to fuck us over.
posted by Ryvar at 10:16 PM on January 8, 2008


mods please remove the word "certain" from the original post.

But please add the word 'knockwurst'. Just for fun.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:04 PM on January 8, 2008 [8 favorites]


What does warrantless wiretapping have to do with illegal traffic shaping?

How is traffic shaping illegal? You, the customer, agreed to it when you handed over your check for the service they provided you. Traffic shaping sucks, granted, but the problem is that Comcast is an abusive monopoly in some locations. Traffic shaping is just a symptom, not the disease.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:53 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


How is traffic shaping illegal? You, the customer, agreed to it when you handed over your check for the service they provided you.

Right, which is why Cable and DSL providers are allowed to block or degrade the traffic of websites that don't pay them an extra fee to access customer machines. Right? I mean, they own the pipes, so they can do whatever they want!
posted by delmoi at 12:14 AM on January 9, 2008


(Although, I'm under the impression that Network Neutrality is not currently mandated by law, but is rather a de-facto situation which many politicians support. The point is, just because someone offers a service, and agree, the situation may still be controlled by various regulations.)
posted by delmoi at 12:19 AM on January 9, 2008


Delmoi, I don't agree with it, myself. But unfettered internet access is not yet a right, insofar as you and I might like it to be that way. I think you're more likely to get a solution to this by looking at the root of the problem: Comcast is a monopoly in most of its markets.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:20 AM on January 9, 2008


Comcast isn't doing traffic shaping. Well, it is, but this isn't what the complaint is about. Traffic shaping sucks, but as long as an ISP is up front about bandwidth throttling it's doing, i.e. all bittorrent traffic is slowed to 30KB during peak hours, or well advertised usage caps, it's at least legal. As you say, it's a contracted service. Think of it like a phone company providing limits on the amount of phone calls you can make in a month on your flat-rate contract. As long as it's not advertised as an 'unlimited' service, that's ok.

What comcast is doing is different. They are secretly intercepting the bittorrent connections, inspecting them, and injecting their own fake RST packets to both the comcast user and the other end of the connection. RST packets basically mean 'All received, I'm done with this connection. Thanks for the data!' causing both comcast client and other user to stop sending data to each other. That's the equivalent of a phone company listening in, and pretending to be you in order to get the other end to hang up, because it didn't like the language you were speaking. Worse, they still deny this is what they're doing, despite a mountain of collected evidence of it.

It's this falsifying of the bitstream and lying about it that's the worrying part. After all, what parts of your internet connection will they arbitrarily alter and lie about next? I use bittorrent for legal material all the time (i'm a linux sysadmin), it's a protocol like http or ftp. There will also likely be bittorrent clients that ignore RST packets, so they don't get closed down by this man in the middle attack. Since RST are legtimately used to close connections, it'll lead to a significant amount of unclosed connections until timeouts kick in. Ironically, this will likely lead to an even greater load on ISPs in the long run.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:33 AM on January 9, 2008


I also want to correct a common misconception about network neutrality. Network neutrality doesn't mean no traffic shaping/throttling, or Quality Of Service by ISPs, as long as it applies universally.

Currently, ISP1 gets paid by their customers. They send data from their customers to ISP2. ISP2 gets paid by their customers, and passes this data on. It may pass through a number of other ISPs (3,4,5) in the middle, but they each get paid by their direct customers for the data they send on, so that's ok.

However, now ISP2 wants to charge individual customers of ISP1 directly, despite having no direct relationship, to delivery their data, even though they've *already been paid* for the traffic by their own customers. Network neutrality means that ISPs can't put an arbitrary number of tollbooths on a data connection for specific users of other ISPs, otherwise you run the risk of ISPs 3,4 and 5 getting in on the action too. The threat is that the traffic from this particular customer will be abitrarily slowed or blocked if they don't pay this extra middleman toll to all the ISPs in the middle.

The reason ISPs want to do this, to double or triple dip on the same data traffic is that they are only getting paid to shift packets, regardless of theiir actual 'worth'. They're freight companies, crudely speaking (though the internet isn't a dump truck!)
They see companies like google or ebay making out like bandits on their fixed-rate traffic, and the ISPs want a piece of it, by charging more to deliver traffic from profitable companies that aren't their customers.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:11 AM on January 9, 2008


Traffic management is the internet equivalent of taxing the rich. It hurts the 5% of users who are responsible for 95% of the traffic, while improving the connectivity of the rest. People complain about it on MetaFilter because people on MetaFilter tend to be top-5% super-users. We might argue that our top-5% activities are worthwhile and should be allowed to procede unfettered, but then so do rich people in the real world. I'd personally argue that both groups are right, but that that's democracy whaddayagonnadoaboutit.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:43 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Good post, good discussion; thanks.) I've been debating whether this should also be an FTC action. Obviously the FCC needs to be involved because Comcast's customers don't have alternatives. But maybe the FTC should be involved since Comcast manipulates your traffic in a way not mentioned in either the Terms of Service/Contract or their advertising. I'm no lawyer, but you'd think their false advertising would make it a Trade concern.

It's long bothered me that ISPs can advertise unlimited Internet access while enforcing significant limits. If legislated network neutrality is thought of as too strong a position, would truth in advertising be a good compromise? Speakeasy is a great ISP; it'd be awesome if they could advertise "full Internet access" while Comcast would be limited to advertising "partial Internet access" only.
posted by sdodd at 4:53 AM on January 9, 2008


While they're at it, could the FCC also get Comcast to publicly quantify what, exactly, their double-secret monthly bandwidth limit is? Their boards are full of people who have unknowingly run-up against this limit and had their service curtailed, or been suddenly shifted to a higher-cost business account. Of course, Comcast won't tell anyone what the limit is, not do they provide any way for a user to monitor their usage. They take a "You'll know when you hit it, because we'll penalize you for it." approach.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:49 AM on January 9, 2008


"Because, yeah, I'm not sure how I would otherwise be able to download the latest version of Fedora for my laptop very efficiently without BitTorrent software."

FTP? HTTP? Buy a DVD? (They like it when you buy DVDs.. they get some cash to support the project) I know that people like to go on about the potential legal uses for bittorrent and 90% of them use "linux distros" as an example but come on now, let's be realistic for a second. :)

Still, any sort of monitoring sucks. I think that the next thing they'll try is to claim that bittorrent is being used for child pornography and that they must take every step possible to prevent that heinous crime. And we'll find everything being monitored under the guise of 'protecting the innocent children.'

That's how certain folks are getting their anti-gun agendas across. "It's to protect the (children|environment|puppies)"
posted by drstein at 8:18 AM on January 9, 2008


hoverboards don't work on water:Traffic management is the internet equivalent of taxing the rich. It hurts the 5% of users who are responsible for 95% of the traffic, while improving the connectivity of the rest.
I don't think I agree. There are many arguments to support the "tax the rich" position. None that I can think of work on broadband customers. The high-traffic 5% are customers, remember. They paid for their service. They do not have any financial, moral, or civic duty toward Comcast. Just the reverse is true, in fact.

Anyhow, what Comcast is doing here would be the equivalent of imposing a secret, surprise tax on the rich, collected by forging checks in the names of the rich. And then denying that any such practice exists, even when caught red-handed.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2008


RE: Hoverboards don't work on water

If an ISP oversells its capacity to me as the customer, it is emphatically not my problem. Degrading the service sold is bait and switch.

The solution is simple: don't sell what you can't deliver.
posted by Freen at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2008


Western Infidels, I'll happily grant that it's an imperfect analogy :) I was going for the democratic angle: most people are happy to have the "freeloaders" capped in exchange for a better service for themselves, whether that's morally correct or not. And yeah, what Comcast are doing here is something else entirely.

Freen, since they charge a single price to all users, the heavy users don't actually pay for what they use - they are subsidised by the light-usage majority. In return, ISPs cap the heavy users when they start to cause trouble. It's not bait-and-switch because no ISPs sell truly unlimited access - there's always a footnote.

Users who want to do unlimited BitTorrenting could buy a dedicated server in a data center and run the client there, then download the files to their home machine. It would be expensive, but if that's the true cost of torrents, so be it.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 12:58 PM on January 9, 2008


No, I pay for a certain number of megabits per second down and up. I certainly don't pay for anyone else's bandwidth.

If they can't provide it to all users who they sell it to, then they are deceiving their customers, and actually providing something radically different from what they are selling.

If your business relies on people not actually using your service, to the point at which you must deny service to those that actually do use what you've sold them, you've got problems.

I buy bandwidth all the time. Lots of it. I also tend to use just about all of the bandwidth I've purchased, all the time. This is actually a big issue. I've encountered this precise problem before, but on a much larger scale. If anyone ever came close to doing something this shady to my bits, with such a blatant bait and switch, I'd sue the pants off of them.

I sell products as well. If at any moment, I told one of my clients "Oh, whoops, you're not actually supposed to use everything I sold you! Your supposed to only use some small portion of what I sold you, like everyone else! I'm going to degrade your service back to normal usage patterns to save my bottom line." Well, I think it's pretty clear what would happen.

Imagine going into a restaurant, buying a meal, and then being punished for finishing your meal. Or, do you not deserve to be able to use what you've bought?
posted by Freen at 1:11 PM on January 9, 2008


Hoverboards: Users who want to do unlimited BitTorrenting could buy a dedicated server in a data center and run the client there, then download the files to their home machine. It would be expensive, but if that's the true cost of torrents, so be it.

That's just shifting the problem from one place to another. A real hosting provider will have to think twice about shafting their clients like this because a) their clients have alternatives b) are fairly tech savvy and c) likely to raise a big stink over such scandalous behavior.

That isn't to say it doesn't happen. Dreamhost used to be notorious for canceling clients who actually used the bandwidth that was sold to them.
posted by Freen at 1:28 PM on January 9, 2008




The FCC is in Comcast's back pocket other than Copps and Adelstein. I really doubt they'll do much.
posted by nelsonjs at 10:27 PM on January 10, 2008


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