back to article Dismantling a Religion: The EFF's Faith-Based Internet

The Electronic Frontier Foundation likes to portray the internet as under attack. But the activist group is doing more to imperil its future than any of its favourite targets. The latest salvo in the utopians' war is a report on Comcast's traffic management policies. It's an amazingly conflicted piece of work, bristling with …


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  1. Mark


    Well, I start a conversation over some telecoms system.

    Me: Hi, so, please tell me your recipe. Got the pen here.

    Mum: Well, take 8 oz of flour

    Me: 8.. oz.. flour

    Comcast [putting on mothers voice]: and go away and ask me another time. I'm too busy

    Me: Mum?

    <Dial tone>

    Is that not comcast pretending to be my mum? Now, this is an analogue to what Comcast are doing because they are forging reset packets so that they look like they are coming from the person I was communicating with. They are forging the IP address it came from, the content is forged and it is lying.

    They are pretending to be someone they are not.

    Maybe "Fraudulent misrepresentation" but then again, if non-commercial sharing is "Piracy" or "theft" then I can use "Fraud" for this.

  2. Tom

    Conclusion: DOCSIS is broken

    Yes, it is broken, and the cable companies brought it on themselves. Their problem is that the "last mile" of wire is a shared resource. Since the cable companies have the problems, it is up to them to fix the problems.

    Funny, the DSL people don't have problems with bittorrent clients. Yes, there are bandwidth problems (limited upstream bandwidth) but the DSL people don't go around hanging up my phone because too many other people are calling each other.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Hang on a second

    "bewildered by the sight of people using the internet for such mundane purposes as downloading porn, bullying, and stealing music."

    Wait, You can get porn on the internet? Why was I never told? That's it Mr Newsagent, no more stretching up the top shelf when I think no ones looking for me!

    My coats the one with the big magazine sized pockets on the inside, thanks.

  4. Shun F

    EFF a bunch of idealists?

    Well, sure, we all want our internet experience to be free from the interference of our ISP. Maybe it's unreasonable to expect total freedom when seeding 30 files from our cable connection. I am going to distract you all from the real issue, however, and talk about disclosure.

    Perhaps the outrage that we feel in the "internet community" is not so much that Comcast is using it's market dominance to block Bit-Torrent uploads. The problem is that they are not honest about what they are doing. Sure, we can argue all day about whether Comcast has the "right" to be doing what it is doing, and whether their actions constitute "fraud, abuse, or neglect" and all of the serious ramifications of those words. Honestly, I am less concerned about Comcasts' packet spoofing than I am about their subsequent attempt to cover up their actions.

    If Comcast were to just come out and say what they were doing, this would have blown over much more quickly. EFF, EPIC, and all the usual CyberLiberties folks would turn up the flames for a couple of months. Once people figured out a way around it, no one would mind. It'd be just another cat and mouse game. Comcast's obstufication regarding this issue only calls into question Comcast's integrity in general. What else are they not telling their customers?

    Customers in Britain and elsewhere are aware that broadband internet service providers use misleading terms when attempting to sell their service. Specifically, they use the term "Unlimited" when they really mean "maximum of 3GB per month, up or down." This kind of thing really makes customers angry. This latest Comcast debacle just feeds into that anger.

    Another troubling precedent: why are we stuck in DOCSIS 1.1 land? How long have we been here, and why hasn't bandwidth in the States moved forward with the rest of the OECD? There are obviously bigger issues here, but I just wanted to point out that if Comcast is limiting upload bandwidths to 384kb/s, then it's really no one else but Comcast's fault when people finally start using that bandwidth, 10 years or more after the advent of the cable modem.

    This seems to be a chronic problem endemic to Stateside broadband providers but I am going to air it out here anyway: broadband providers here tend to worry more about pay packets for CEO's, lobbyists, and lawyers than they do about improving their networks. If they just concentrated on building faster networks and improving customer service, and spent less time and effort acting like big media companies, people would feel a lot more sympathy for them.

    They might even get some cooperation from the Bit-Torrent community, although that's highly unlikely.

  5. Morely Dotes

    Unlimited use of hidden agenda

    "the EFF ... [is] ... bewildered by the sight of people using the internet for ... stealing music."

    And it seemed like such a rational, well-thought-out article, too.

    Here's an idea, Bennet: Add "RIAA Mug" to your list of titles. Then go beat up an old lady and steal her Social Security check. It will fit your apparent motives better, and serve as "truth in advertising."

    Meanwhile, I'll continue to use BitTorrent technology to download patches to World of Warcraft, and watch streaming movies live from commercial sites (for pay), and get new releases of my favored Linux distros, and all the other *PERFECTLY LEGAL AND LEGITIMATE* uses that it has found.

    If ComCast and BT can't deliver "unlimited" broadband usage, then it should be illegal for them to advertise it as such.

  6. Eric Olson

    Okay, so what else should the cable companies do?

    So, you have finite resource, and you have a very small group taking up a very large amount of that resource. They take so much, it starts to impact the majority of the paying customers who are only doing mundane things with the resource, not wasting it in the pursuit of continual, ever-streaming pleasure.

    Now... there are a couple ways to combat this the way that the current technology allows. You do something that throttles bandwidth to users who are taking a share of the stream that is far larger than anyone else's share, or you start charging them through the nose. Personally, I support the idea of bandwidth caps and limits, and if you go over a monthly, resaonable cap, you get slapped with huge fees. Just like your cell phone, some water utilities, and others. Unlimited unless you don't play by the rules of fairness. If you are going to pull down 100GB a month in smut, music, movies, and other stuff, legal or not, you should pay more than the average user who uses 20GB. Set the cap to some high average, then you go over, and see your bill go through the roof.

    But, then people will cry about it to their moms about how the cable companies are daring to charge them for the resources they use, for putting a huge drain on the overall system, and in general having a "the world owes me this" attitude. The cable companies can't magically increase the bandwidth of their network, the outlay of cash is enormous. So, if you want that bandwidth, pay for it. I think Comcast, who I otherwise detest, has every right to take measures to uphold their end of a contract they have with ALL subscribers to provide the service they are being paid to provide. It's one thing to protect minority rights when they are being oppressed by the majority. This is hardly the case... I would say the minority is infringing on the contractual rights of the majority.

    So, take your utopian, entitlement attitude elsewhere, or pay for what you want. And until you do, just shut up.

  7. Chris Myers

    Who paid for this?

    I've been coming to this site for years and this is the first time I've seem such a load of dung dressed up as real news. Normally El Reg presents dung clearly as such.

    DOCSIS is broken, it's the cable companies fault. Fraud is fraud, and calling it that is a public service. I have Comcast cable service, I've been hit by this and it pisses me off. Not as much as the other underhanded practices they perpetrate, which allow them to be the only broadband option in my town.

    I wanna see the bastards pay, I want service options and want to use the bandwidth they advertise and I purchase for whatever the hell I want, when I want.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Damage not limited to bittorrent

    "Reset spoofing merely rations the number of Bittorrent seeding sessions a user can offer to the internet at a given time. It doesn't affect BitTorrent downloads, and in fact improves them for most users"

    Nah, it was a botch, they can't tell the difference between bittorrents and other connection types, so they broke a bunch of protocols accidentally, (Lotus notes database syncs, wget, file transfers across non standard ports, VPN choke). As an expert you know damn well Bittorrent packets don't have the 'evil bit' set on them to identify them. I assume they just guessed the packets based on port number and amount of data sent.

    Forged is quite a good description. The word 'spoofed' doesn't quite capture what they're doing.

    This guys even sees these packets on port 80 (http!), ever got a 'connection reset' error during a web file download?;topicseen

    "Ok, I got 'em. Here's me trying to do a simple wget from my server at work, and what I see on a packet sniffer on both ends. On my work machine, I see 4 requests, then a reset, then my requests start retrying.

    "On my server, I only see the requests. I'm sending responses that never get to my work computer.. Here are the packets going back and port 80 , mind you. Now, I'm using Wireshark at work (gui) and snort at home (console), so that is why the formatting is different. But you can see not only the ID's, but the ports & sizes match when they hook up."

  9. Aric Friesen

    Incorrect Conclusions

    Ok, someone already beat me to the obvious conclusion, DOCSIS is broken.

    But let's go a little further. Ok, assuming the EFF did a piss poor job of writing this report, let's look at your analysis.

    It would seem you too may have made a mistake by instead of doing a root cause analysis, you simply followed the EFF down the rabbit hole and then called them stupid for being in a rabbit hole. But look, you're in the rabbit hole too!

    There are two real fundamental issues that are causing this (aside from Comcasts "forgery") and both are much higher level than any mistakes in the DOCSIS standard.

    1) My cable company promises me unlimited up and download data. It says to a Max of 1Mbps up and 7Mbps down. Now I know I won't always get those speeds, but whatever speeds I get, I'm unlimited.

    2) Apparently the cable company sells more bandwidth than it has (much like an airline who over books a flight.)

    Now regarding item 1) As long as they give me unlimited up and down, I am wasting money (and not reducing my carbon footprint) unless I use my max throughput 100% of the time. I pay for it, they said I had it, it's mine. Now were they foolish in saying that? Should they be charging me per MB or GB? Possibly. But they don't. So it's in my best interest to use all the bandwidth I purchased for the month. Anytime I'm not using my max, I am paying for bandwidth I don't need, and I am supplying power to my networking devices when they aren't providing a use, which means I'm increasing my carbon footprint needlessly.

    For item 2) If an airline overbooks, they might "reset your flight" similar to Comcast resetting your network, but they do at least compensate you for it. I bet if Comcast sent an email to customers saying... we've interrupted your network for a bit, here's a month's free credit to your account people would've felt differently. Can you imagine arriving at an airport with the airline claiming, "no we don't oversell your flights" putting you on a fake (forged if you will) airplane that cannot fly, and walking away claiming they met their end of their contract? That would be pretty mean spirited. And yet, that's what Comcast has done.

  10. Jason


    This article shows a couple good points, though at heart it seems to revolve around the effect of bittorrent (or any equivalent connection hog) on DOCSIS networks. Whereas bittorrent is a good software client in spirit, it does tend make tons of requests. This is not a problem on a switched network such as DSL, as only users on that dsl connection are affected (ie... LAN traffic). So again it comes back to software designers creating poor software that attempts to do as much as possible, when unnecessary (why is there no option to limit number of connections?). As noted you can many times get far better download speeds with fewer connection attempts.

    As programs like these continue to emerge, the problem will only increase, even on switched networks. Programmers will find ways around being limited by switched networks. The only solution in these cases becomes separation of traffic, and limits on types of traffic (again, very hard to implement currently, if even possible). ie.. standard web browsing gets 256k, file downloads 512k, streaming video 768k, etc. And in the end, on a DOCSIS network, the only place to regulate upstream is at the modem.

  11. Brett Brennan

    It's the contract not the network

    The problem Comcast, Cox and other cablecos are facing with bandwidth management can be solved without implementing new technology and in a way that everyone understands it.

    But, first, let's look at the REAL root of this problem.

    Nearly every broadband supplier sells a service contract for data carriage that states the upstream and downstream rates and some sort of Service Level Agreement (SLA) for the availability of this service. Only DirecWay satellite - to the best of my knowledge - establishes limits on the data volume over a particular time period.

    Most "ignorant" Internet users "assume" that when they purchase a 1500/384kbps connection contract they are entitled to the logical limit of that contract; eg 1,500,000 x 60 x 60 x 24 = 129600000000 bits/day and 384,000 x 60 x 60 x 24 = 33177600000 bits/day. Or, in other words, about 4GB upload and 16GB download per day. EVERY day.

    If the cableco, telco, cellco, satco, etc. can't deliver what they contractually promise, then they need to (1) change the contract to something that they CAN deliver, (2) settle the breach of contract with customers that have been tricked with a "bait and switch" deal, (3) fix the technology to be able to meet their contractual agreement. Also, note that in the United States, if something as important as termination of service is buried in fine print, the provider is still liable for violation for not making a key contract provision understandable to the average customer.

    So the bottom line for the cablecos: amend the contract, specifically stating what the conditions for usage are. And apply the limitations EVENLY. If Bittorrent is the problem, simply stating that "Bittorrent will not be permitted" and blocking the ports or sending RST packets is OK. But block ALL Bittorrents - period. If there are levels of contract, and one of them allows Bittorrent traffic - for a premium price - then make that clear in the advertising and ENFORCE it.

    If the EFF has half a brain, they'll start suits on a class-action basis, not founded on "net neutrality" but on RICO and "truth in advertising" to get the FUNDAMENTAL problem - the contract - changed.

    OK, I'm packing up my napalm now...

  12. Jay Hawk

    Straight facts? Get 'em straight

    First of all, the EFF is an acronym for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, nothing about "Freedom" there. Comcast is not using an "honest" method of slowing down the bandwidth hogs and needs to change methods. Finally we all have a huge interest in seeing that upstream bandwidth is allocated to individual users and not kept locked up by the content providers.

    I'm sorry, but I fail to find religious zealotry in any request for change that the EFF is promoting, just common sense. Typically an engineer sees a technical problem where only a political one exists.

  13. Rick Brasche

    a Reg shill-reporter?

    let's cut the crap, okay?

    the issue isn't about technology or capability. It's about what the company sells, what it tells you you're going to get for your money, versus what you actually get.

    This is very simple. If you sell me "unlimited" use then it is "unlimited". If you put a download cap (not just bandwidth throttling) then you are "limiting". very very simple.

    telling me you sell "blazing fast" internet connections and demonstrating to me how fast i can download stuff, then put a cork on downloads that come from a source you decide is too popular, is "bait and switch".

    Crying about not having enough to "serve all our customers" is not the customers' problem. If you failed to modify your infrastructure and oversold capability (which Comcast et al was already doing over 6 years ago when cable modems first rolled out-which is why I never went back to them) is *your* problem. If an airline sells me a seat on an airplane, then oversells the seats, giving me a f*cking bus ticket isn't going to be allowed.

    What happened here is providers sold what they thought was a cash cow for them-selling to rubes who would never utilize bandwidth or even come close to getting their money's worth. Comcast and others just sat on their @sses and laughed at all those "nerds" who bought the "high speed hype".

    Then, people started using the pipe. It wasn't just nerd bragging rights now. Even Aunt Bea and Grandma needed a phat pipe because the Internet got too bloated. Advertisements on her favorite gardening site and email provider are even full video now. Web 2.0 dorks and out of work dot-commers flooded the net with eye candy and bloated sites to try to get recognition. A fast connection became mandatory. And the cable companies were caught with their pants down.

    We wouldn't accept crap like this from cellular companies would we? Cell speeds and coverage are much better than even 4 years ago, no matter how sucky their customer service and billing systems are. Every provider has wireless data service many times faster than the fastest dialup connection. Even as far behind Japan as we are, even AT&T is getting faster, and they actually put a little of their profits into infrastructure expansion and improvement.

    Not the cable guys tho. Not in tune with how fast they sold the stuff. They got people canvassing my neighborhood at least once a week. One hub, a thousand apartments, and Comcast failing to mention you're sharing that "high speed' with every damned one of them. They also forgot to mention back in the day that you were all on the same network-when I used them I could browse the C drives on every neighbor's PC who was in the same neighborhood hub.

    Maybe instead of paying shills and lawyers, maybe they ought to either upgrade neighborhood hubs to a better technology, or if that isn't possible, actually be *honest* about what you do and don't get. Advertise the average speed measured in a given neighborhood. tell new cusomers that your speed goes down as soon as that condo/housing development goes online next month. Tell them that for anything but websurfing and MMORPG's, it's going to get even slower so that the websurfing and email can get thru. Stop using "unlimited" in ads.

    Because most of the world aren't weasely lawyers and Clinton apologists who buy into convoluted arguments about 'what the definition of the word "is" is". Most understand the language, and the language of lies is what's causing Comcast the problems. Less money on weaseling out, more on doing things right.

    And keep your f**king cable guys and their ads off my porch. I told each and every one of them I ain't paying $50 a month for channels spewing mostly ads, propaganda and sh*tty "reality TV". Then getting gypped for more to get the few channels I could stand, and still, no decent pr0n. Oh yeah, add on more cost to be able to pay for their "socialist internet" (everyone is equal, some are more equal than others) and I'd pay close to $90 a month (until the next rate increase!) to get less than I do now with DSL and a Netflix account (that costs me less than $50 total now). Plus I remain blissfully unaware of "hawt social trends" like which wanker won "dancing with the stars", or what new beer/car commercial is so awesome. I ain't paying for some corporate @rsehats to cram a sewer pipe into my living room. They'd better pay *me*.

  14. Steve

    Wonderful Analogies

    I love analogies more than anyone, but I also see that there are times that they don't work. And apparently no one else does.

    The Internet doesn't work like 'real life' and any comparison to airlines, Athenian democracy, mom on the phone, apple pie, the Queen and Klingon Honor are going to likely be flawed. Somehow that point of the article got completely missed. That bandwidth isn't the problem, got missed. And people repeat the arguments they've prepared far in advance.

    Here's an analogy: The post office puts mail it can't deliver in a 'dead letter' office. Now imagine that it was Animal Control, and they had a 'dead dog' office where they put lost pets! Clearly now with my simple analogy, you can see how evil the post office is! They (almost) literally kill puppies!

    And the EFF is content to kick Comcast for almost literally killing puppies instead of working towards any sort of actual meaningful goals. That's the real problem, and that's what the article said... and somehow that point got missed. Maybe the packets with that information got spoofed.

  15. Richard Bennett

    I never cease to be amazed

    My goodness, I seem to have upset some people. Let's try and get to some facts, OK?

    * Comcast has already announced they'll be upgrading their network to DOCSIS 3.0 starting in Q4 2008. This means the existing 40 Mb/s down/10 Mb/s up configuration will be replaced by a 130/100. That doesn't mean each user gets that much, it just means that the pool will get much larger, especially in the upload direction.

    * Comcast doesn't advertise their service as "unlimited" or guarantee any rate. They publish the caps, and they're not shy about them.

    * The Internet lacks a system to enforce per-user fairness, as its entire congestion avoidance system has been engineered on a per-flow basis.

    * The lack of any per-user fairness system and the limitations of DOCSIS 1.1 explain why Comcast does what it does.

    * Calling RST Spoofing "fraud" doesn't address the question of whether it's reasonable or not.

    I talked to the EFF report's authors before they published, and I know for a fact that they understand the Internet's fairness problem better than they let on.

    Don't let your rancor at the cable companies/phone companies cloud your better judgment. The Internet is not magic, and bandwidth isn't free.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A solution

    So, what they need to do is say 'you get X amount of bandwidth per x amount of time, and if you go over it, you will pay $x.xx per MB or Kb/s.' and have repeat offenders disconnected and barred from their network. All they are doing is protecting the legitimate users. It's not Comcast's fault that the bit torrent protocol is detrimental to network performance... And I know it's a big shocker to the lusers that have just found out that all ISPs traffic shape <GASP>. Get over it. It's a fact of life. If you dont like it, cancel your cable internet and go back to dialup/dsl.

  17. prathlev


    To all those people talking about "unlimited" services: Yes, the companies are stupid calling it "unlimited", but every goddamn fool knows nobody can deliver "unlimited" services. So blame the marketing people. (And when you're at it, blame the customers. Marketing only works when a fair amount of customers fall for it.)

    Saying you want "unlimited" when they promised you "unlimited" seems to me like a display of bad faith.

    Internet as we know it now is only possible (at current prices) because of oversubscription, and oversubscription is only realistic if you can enforce some kind of fairness, with many applications/protocols like Bittorrent hinder. If you want to use Bittorrent/whatever at "full" service, an ISP near you can probably supply it: Guaranteed QoS, EF and all that, no limit, no nothing. But it'll cost you. Now pay up or shut up. :-D


  18. noodle heimer

    Cable companies have been numskulls forever

    Back in the day, around 98 or 99, the cable companies wanted to <snicker> outlaw NAT, or at least put things in their terms of service telling their customers they couldn't use NAT. The cable companies were pissed that they weren't able to sell you a per-computer service, as they could a per-television service,

    I agree that rate-limiting bit torrent traffic is, or in any case should be, completely legitimate behavior. It's not the same as rate-limiting traffic that originates from a network source that hasn't bribed you to play nice with them.

    The folks who are claiming that traffic shaping based on protocol is the same as rate-limiting based on network of origin do indeed put my teeth on edge.

    At the same time, if you buy your connection from a cable ISP, well, too bad. It's been explained again and again how the US cable internet offerings suck at their very core.

    Guess what? Cable sucks. Any and all cable offerings: suckage. Guys selling cable? Weasels. In the end, I hope Comcast loses big-time in front of a jury - a big enough damage settlement based on using inflammatory language like 'forging' in front of a dimwitted jury that their stock takes a big hit. I also hope Comcast gets the award reversed on appeal, preferably on appeal about 4 years later, in front of judges who can read without moving their lips.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I approve of this article!

    ...Actually I approve even more of the linked PDF. Pending further information, Comcast's actions seems to be deplorably heavy-handed attempts at fixing the unfixable - which is the unrestricited capacity of customer to clog the pipes. Naive customers who take "unlimited volume" to actually mean "unlimited volume" should look up "tragedy of the commons". If the pipe is clogged, you still have "unlimited volume", it's just not going to arrive to your machine anytime soon.

    Solution: make users pay for the congestion they cause. Congestion caused can be measured as "the amount of data the user sent that was dropped or congestion marked". Slight modifications to the router software will get us there.

    Voilà. Unlimited cheap bandwidth as long as you are alone on the net and nicely balanced resource contention depending on who is willing to pay the most (market forces that do not lead to perverse outcomes! yay!).

    And those who don't bother to write or use well-behaving protocols (NO, NOT TCP!) will be hit in the wallet. Suits you.

    I guess moving in that direction is inevitable. The only question is "how quickly". Of course the Net Neutralistas will whip up a storm, but should anyone care?

  20. Glen Turner

    Protocol fairness has nothing to do with the Comcast dispute

    I didn't see Bob's presentation at IETF, I assume it matches his SIGCOMM paper and his presentation at PFLDNet. His PFLDNet presentation was politely received, but I felt it to be lacking substance, nor was this substance forthcoming in his SIGCOMM paper.

    To take one example, inter-flow fairness is the only mechanism which can prevent unfair treatment of a later-started flow. I doubt people want their second connection across their access link to run 1000x slower than their first connection.

    Bob's paper also ignores the effect of fairness in avoiding process starvation -- an Internet based on Bob's paper would see a lot more connection timeouts during high load. Before rejecting fairness as a design objective another mechanism to avoid starvation needs to be proposed, which Bob's paper did not do. It is this sort of substance which Bob's comments on fairness currently lack.

    The protocol design community does currently tie itself in knots as to how much and what types of fairness a TCP next generation algorithm needs to achieve. Bob's paper is useful in suggesting that in practice the last 10% of fairness probably doesn't matter. But there's no mathematical exploration or practical measurement of this in Bob's current writing, rather the argument is pursued through forceful statement. Given the high number of "non obvious" discoveries about the behaviour of TCP, argument alone is not convincing.

    You say: "BitTorrent's basic approach to bandwidth consumption actually conflicts quite strongly with a key assumption of the internet's architects, that the relationship between users and traffic flows is essentially a constant." This cannot be right, the literature has references to "long tail distribution" (where a few users consume most of the network resource) going back to the late 1980s. File servers are not new, I've used FTP for a very long time and the "mget" command makes even FTP produce a flow count not constant with the number of users. Nor is archive mirroring new. USENET traffic has no relationship to the number of readers.

    What we have here is a trade description and pricing issue. If you advertise a 10Mbps Internet connection then people expect to be able to transfer 10Mbps of data. If the truth is otherwise then the product should be described differently. And of course there's nothing to prevent a pricing model where heavy users are charged more than light users. Except perhaps that this would bring attention to the industry's chronic overcharging of light users :-)

    Comcast has a large demand from some users for their product. Comcast should be laughing all the way to the bank, this is the scenario every business dreams of, these are the customers which businesses send Christmas cards to. It's obvious that Comcast have chosen an incorrect pricing model: that is not their customer's fault, high use is not misuse. Misuse is more like Comcast's behaviour in inserting TCP RSTs to disrupt traffic.

  21. The Irish One

    Its a business problem - not a technical one

    What a silly piece of "journalism".

    Comcast are indeed fraudsters. They pitch their service as fast an unlimted (note the "slowsky' commercials) yet get unhappy and play unfair if people go above certain unpublished maximums.

    If Comcast want limits - go ahead and publish them AND provide the tools through the customer portal so that customers can monitor their usage.

    Comcast don't have a technical problem - they have an issue of promising too much. They promise 6Mb to every customer - assuming that not every customer will use that. Once customers maintain those speeds - then those customers become a liability.

    No future technology will fix this (in the same way that larger airplanes wont stop airlines from overselling flights).

    While Comcast are taking the bad press on this - its an issue that is the same across the Telco/Cable industry. The "fix" is for the ISPs to fix their business model.

    A mostly happy Comcast customer.

  22. Adam Carden
    IT Angle

    Funny That

    I find it quite strange that americans think cable sucks, I find over here in good old blighty that what used to be Blueyonder (now consumed by NTL and rebranded) beats the pants of any available DSL connection, from what I used to hear the NTL cable while a poorer service that Blueyonder was/is superior again to any other DSL connection.

    I suspect BT is probably the answer here with their poor network, when almost the whole country uses the BT backbone for DSL things are likely to be poor.

    I am going to assume you have the opposite situation, almost everyone on cable leaving DSL to be a better option (when available)

  23. david wilson


    If a restaurant advertises "All you can eat for £10!", for the most part, it's relying on not *everyone* being a greedy bugger. It's not budgeting for a personal waiter or chef for each diner, and anyone who thinks it is (or should be) would probably go tits-up in short order if they moved into catering.

    If an all-you-can-eat restaurant gets coachloads of champion eaters turning up and staying in their seats 24/7, they'll either have to put up the prices, find some way of sharing out the food between customers, or tell the greedier ones to sod off somewhere else, assuming they can find somewhere else that wants their custom.

  24. Phil Bennett

    "Saying you want "unlimited" when they promised you "unlimited" eh

    "Saying you want "unlimited" when they promised you "unlimited" seems to me like a display of bad faith."

    My God, really? You believed the company from whom you purchased a service? What were you thinking?

    Well, I have an unlimited deal with my water company. I use water, I pay a fixed rate. If I use an absolutely ungodly amount of water, they are allowed to contact me and request that I go onto a metered service. I don't actually have any obligation to do so - I can continue to the end of the contract quite happily. So unlimited is in fact unlimited. For a company with fixed resources. And their network really is made of tubes!

    If you can't afford to do unlimited services, because for example bandwidth is too expensive, then DO NOT ADVERTISE YOUR SERVICE AS UNLIMITED. Advertise it like Be do - it has clearly defined caps, but my God they are high. (yes, if I was in a Be area I'd be with them. As I'm not, I'm with Sky. Who seem fairly good at this game).


  25. Kanhef


    Some usenet servers do this, with positive results. You pay $x for y GB of downloads. When that's used up, they can automatically bill you for a couple more gigs - at the same rate - with no interruption to your service. ISPs would have a similar system for uploads as well, of course. ('course, usenetters would hate being charged twice for it.) Discourages heavy bandwidth usage without causing trouble for low-bandwidth users. It's even net-neutral: all that matters is the amount of data, not the content or provider.

    Copyright holders would love this too. When downloading a movie from BitTorrent costs more than going to the store and buying hardcopy, the piracy rate will plummet. No lawsuits/DRM/malware/invasions of privacy necessary.

  26. Eric Olson

    One other thing...

    I just trolled through the Comcast website, and I never see a mention of "unlimited" except in reference to the VoIP product. Now, that isn't to say in the past, they also never said unlimited. But the past didn't contain BitTorrent, YouTube, and other Web 2.0 fluff. It was graphical websites full of some Flash and Shockwave and the occasional Java mess. The pipes built then, in the excesses of the dotcom bubble, allowed us to even have a functional internet today. They laid fiber everywhere they could, gave everyone a fat pipe, and aimed it at a tea cup. Only those really in the know could go out there and find the warez, CDs, DVDs, and such. Then the game changed, and applications were created to take advantage (this is in the "creep up behind you, smack you over the head, and rummage around in your billfold" kind of way) of the huge, underutilized pipes and processors. Comcast and other providers were caught with their pants down, because they are large companies who, for the most part, were used to controlling the content and the delivery, and now, they just had the latter. So, what went from maybe everyone averaging 2-10GB of content a year, now they are looking at 2-10GB of content a month.

    But, all good contracts have a clause of some type, notifying the customer that the Ts & Cs could change at any time. It might have come as an insert into a bill one month, maybe a separate mailing that was ignored and thrown away. And maybe, just maybe, those people crying foul over the "unexpected" termination of their connection for hitting a cap were notified a couple of times in preceding months. Dealing with customers daily regarding financial transactions and systems work has instilled in me a healthy amount of skepticism when someone says, "Well, no one ever told me that!" Most of the time, either they were told and ignored it, either verbally or written, or there was this strange cognitive disconnect between the notification and how it actually applied to them. Rarely, they actually didn't get it, especially if it was mailed, because the Post Office does occasionally misdirect or lose mail, or more commonly, they had failed to notify us of an address change.

    I will state that on the Comcast website, I haven't been able to easily obtain anything that indicates what a usage cap might be. Now, that's not to say it doesn't exist, or that failure to have it on the front page constitutes "fraud" or "bait and switch." I'm merely pointing out that a casual glance does not show what a cap might be, but it also shows nothing indicating unlimited usage. A customer who is learned in the way of business will take the package named "Performance 6Mbps" and read up on it, and you will not find mention of unlimited service. It's a connection. The fine print on the website also states "Service is subject to terms and conditions of Comcast High-Speed Internet Subscriber Agreement and Home Networking Amendment if applicable. For restrictions, minimum requirements and details about service and prices, call 1-800-Comcast." To me, that would indicate that if you want the full story, read the agreement, and then sign if you'd like.

    I guess to me, it's pretty simple. Comcast (or any other provider) has the right and responsibility to make sure that all subscribers have access to the service they are being provided. Comcast no longer makes mention of unlimited usage, and without knowing how long ago they changed that, I cannot make a judgment on whether it was an organic (i.e. internal decision) change to the wording, or instigated by someone threatening legal action. However, anyone who has signed up recently has no reasonable expectation to unlimited usage. I might have my math off, but a 6Mbps connection over a 30 day month amounts to the logical maximum of 1.9TB a month (6Mbps x 60s x 60m x 24h x 30d and divide it all by 8bit)? That would be absurd, though with people downloading ripped, uncompressed HD-DVD and Blu-Ray movies that would be 50 movies or so... does someone really need to download 50 movies a month, all the time? And if you say yes, you are either a very lonely person, or you are trying to build a media collection that rivals a Best Buy and Netflix put together. And I don't ever care about the legality (or lack thereof).

    The simple fact remains, while you might decry the methods, and the shoddy way it was explained (technically, P2P isn't blocked, just....delayed), without it, the system would collapse. Right now, instead of the serial uploader being able to seed 30 items, they can seed only 6. Somehow, I fail to see how this is a bad thing. If it means I can still watch my streaming porn while playing some Hold 'Em online and listening to streaming audio broadcasts.... Err...

    A big deal is being made out of nothing, and both the EFF and this writer are looking at it the wrong way. And it's not like Comcast is going corporate on you and just outright blocking sites that contain streaming materials, or blocking whole ports that are used by them. At work, I can get about 1 in 10 radio stations, no video, and large sections of the internet are completely blocked off. Now if Comcast did that, I think we could instigate some kind of pitchfork and torch movement.

  27. Craig

    Comcast lies

    I have comcast and Vonage. For some reason my cable connection can't make a clear phone call even when I'm doing nothing else. And if I'm downloading 1 torrent (at a whopping 30k/s) then forget browsing the web. It doesn't work. Tell me the speed I pay for (6 megs/second according to Comcast) shouldn't be able to support 1 phone call or 1 30k/s and Tell me that isn't fraud.

    If I pay for 6 m/s then give me 6 m/s, period. If you can't do that for all of your customers then don't advertise that speed. If they want to cap my useage, fine, tell me what the damn cap is. Don't just cut people off without telling them what the limit is. Can the cops pull you over for going over some arbitrary unposted speed limit?

    Not to mention thousands upon thousands of cases of billing fraud of all the territories they bought from roadrunner. Billing all of us for modems that time warner had given us. Even going so far as to question the contract I showed them detailing how I got to keep my modem. Saying it "implied" that I got to keep using it for free.

    Register get out of the pocket of the large providers, and the RIAA. I thought you were "biting the hand that feeds IT" apparently that should read "licking the hand of the oppresive overlords of IT and pissing on the consumers".

  28. Liam Johnson


    I am not a Comcast customer, but I have never ever seen provider guarantee a bandwidth, perhaps Comcast are different, but most say something like “up to” xMbit. Otherwise they would be hit constantly by jokers ringing up because they cannot get the full bandwidth when downloading from someone’s 14.4KB modem half way around the world.

  29. Daniel

    poor old septics

    They really have to put up with a lot of arse, don't they?

    They like to promote the image of themselves as forerunners in technical excellence, but even in bloody Belgium and France (which they often like to view as the craphole of the world) people don't have to put up with this crap.

    Even stodgy 'n' stoopid public bodies like Belgacom have copped on to the fact that offering users 10GB a month for a price and then selling volume packs of 5GB for a few bucks each is a way to earn a crust, and worth maintaining a decent service for. And that means that if you want to download 25G of pron or whatever, it's your business mate.

    Comcast should get their fingers out and put in some infrastructure that actually delivers a decent service. Then they might start making something out of it.

    Who the hell makes excuses for shoddy crapalicious "business practices" (a.k.a. near total bloody incompetence) like that?

    You can't really take it out on users for not wanting to pay for stuff, when the fuckheads that own the bandwidth won't offer it for sale.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All you can eat

    "If an all-you-can-eat restaurant gets coachloads of champion eaters turning up and staying in their seats 24/7, they'll either have to put up the prices, find some way of sharing out the food between customers, or tell the greedier ones to sod off somewhere else, assuming they can find somewhere else that wants their custom."

    Share out the food fairly? I either expect higher prices or being told to sod off, but I do expect all I can eat.

    But sharing the food out? What planet are you on? What fucked up commie paradise do you live in?

    My ISP charges a fixed rate that includes 5GB a month and any more data transferred over that in that period incurs further charges, strangely I don't have bit-torrent streaming ripped off music and video and endless warcraft patches and linux distros 24/7.

    Can't they just bill it?

    Is anyone else getting pissed off with all the GODDAM COMMIE HIPPIES?!?!???

  31. Mage Silver badge

    DOCSIS 3.0 Illusions

    DOCSIS 3.0 makes the problem worse. It creates no more bandwidth. That is limited by how many people are on a cable segment and the frequency band used.

    DOCSIS 3.0 simply allows aggregation of channels to get past the download limit of data in a 6MHz or 8MHz QAM encoded Channel. Existing Modems can only use one channel.

    Unless Comcast have a 4x as many headends and each cable 1/4 as many users they can't actually offer higher speeds except to a few users at the expense of existing traffic.

    Of course if they gave everyone a dish for TV and used the cable for Broadband only they'd have more bandwidth. Having no analog and changing all the TV to MPEG4 will help. But then there is HD which needs 5x as much per channel ...

  32. Mark

    @Richard Bennett

    So what do you think will happen when you reset a connection (a connection you tell us operates poorly when starting up a session)? Why, it starts a session again.

    Oh, that's going to cause another storm of startup requests.

    Now, let's say they throttle the bandwidth (FECN/BECN implementations aside). You get the storm of requests but only when it starts. The storm is slowed down, so it's less of a burden.

    Now, why doesn't comcast do this? Because then they'd have to admit that they throttle connections. So they lie instead and say they don't and then run something that, for the aim of the session IS THE SAME THING but also makes the problem worse for the network. Just so they don't have to admit they lied.

  33. Greg

    @The Author and others: US inefficiency

    The trouble with the analysis saying that it's normal to throttle, regardless of the technical way to do it and of whether it's a good thing to assume the IP of the replier to issue a failure, the point is on whether there is a need at all for such measures.

    Or at least whether they are really the limiting factor.

    I'm laughing heartily to see there is a debate because 384kb/s or whatever can't be used by many users at the same time.

    That's because probably they only pay - what was said above? $90 a month - to have TV phone and net.

    Take France, yes, the surrendering-monkey one.

    For 30 euro, which is $45 or even, in terms of purchasing power parity, which is more meaningful, $30, I have an internet connection.

    That connection includes unlimited phone calls for free to 50 countries or so, some 100 channels (the rest of the channels can be selected one by one and I'm not forced into any package where I pay for ten channels I don't want for one I do).

    What speed do I have?


    And I do get full speed.

    And I do use bittorrent all the time with no throttling at all from my ISP.

    Oh, and it does make a lot of money and is very appreciated by investors, though it had to spend a few billions to upgrade.

    And don't forget french people are among the most hungry consumers of illegal downloads, which means a bigger proportion of users are actually trying their best to break the network.

    Sure, that doesn't mean my ISP won't run, some day, into the problem and won't have to introduce some kind of limitation.

    In the meantime, it shows that the problem is far from being what Comcast makes it to be. The problem of congestion in spite of normal network investment may exist, but Comcast is something like at the very most a hundredth of the way to reaching that point.

    In the meantime, it could for one third of the price offer 100 times as much without any strings attached and still make money.

    Is there not a problem here?

    (and once again, I'm not saying anything on the principle of throtlling, only that this is relevant only when there is a REAL network issue and not just a market-sharing monopoly that doesn't want to invest a cent of its cash-cow money to actually provide a decent service).

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If Morely Dotes was an ISP...

    He would be in two months, because he would have no way of throttling the bandwidth hogs AND fulfilling his promise of "UNLIMITED". Yet he still has to pay for the bandwidth the hogs use.

    Same with all the other posters who think "UNLIMITED" should mean "UNLIMITED" at all times.

    All mouth, no trousers.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    @ If Morely Dotes was an ISP

    I quite agree. He keeps posting his false-flag arguments about needing unlimited resource to fuel his never ending BitTorrent streams of Linux distros, World of Warcraft and all that "legitimate" shite he keeps dribbling on about (if it was legitimate how does the RIAA get a mention then?). People are not shills, the author is not an unpaid/paid spokesman for some kind of conspiracy that's bubbling around in your head.

    Speak to anyone that works at an ISP and they'll tell you the same story, the traffic that's generated from porn, warez, bootlegging and torrents is greater than all the other traffic combined. I've seen it myself. This just happens to be a fact. ISPs are well past the 80/20 ratio of 20% of users generating 80% of the traffic. It's more like 2% generating 90% of the traffic. What kind of fucking imbecile thinks any resource is unlimited? We all accept that anything described as "unlimited" is a marketing gimmick smothered in small print. You take on a bargain that says this is a generous package but don't take the piss but then some of you have to go back and bite their fucking hands off.

    I take it all you chumps believe everything you read is the literal truth? I've broke unbreakable plates, I've had numerous famous brand products not do what they say on the tin and a million cleaning products that do not make everything fucking spotless, whiter than white or amazingly clean. The world is riddled with half-truths and bullshit but when you get the freeloaders that want their unlimited Internet connection for the price of a fucking happy meal I really do give up all hope of their being intelligent life out there.

    I swear to God the minuscule intellects' on this forum makes Slashdot look like the Royal Society.

  36. Peter Simpson

    Re: Comcast and DOCSIS

    Has Comcast been moving to a hybrid fiber/cable network architecture?

    I assumed the large white pole boxes were fiber to cable translators. My guess is that the original shared media became saturated pretty quickly as the internet user population increased, and so they would have retained shared media for the neighborhoods, but converted to fiber for runs back to the POP. ..anyone know the details?

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Of course "unlimited" should mean "unlimited" at all times. Otherwise it is misrepresentation. Humpty Dumpty should not be allowed a job in advertising.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    heh I

    heh I do actually have an unlimited account, a real unlimited account, no monitoring, no port blocking, no snooping, no caps and low contention.

    Why do I have this?

    Becouse I pay £40 a month for a standard 512k connection. It is always on, it is always getting me more porn and fansubs.

    When I wanna play a game with my mates i can act as a server without a problem.

    If I wanna run an irc or a mud server, I can.

    When I have a problem I phone a guy, and he fixes it, I don't spend hours in a que to talk to a monkey.

    You pay sod all for your connection - you get a bent service for the masses, a service your mum will be satisfied with.

    You wanna thrash the system then pay for a real service from an isp tailored to providing a real service.

    That's the way of the world.

  39. Steve

    Re: "Nothing's unlimited..."

    Wil you muppets STFU. No-one is suggesting that the bandwidth is unlimited - of course that is ridiculous, which is why no-one is claiming that an ISP has offered this.

    They offer unlimited USAGE, understand? It's the difference between flow rate and volume. That is why you can download more than 20Mb on a 20Mb/s connection if you leave it running for longer than 1s.

    This isn't rocket science.

  40. Eric Olson


    I hate defending Comcast, because they represent all that is wrong with the cable market in the US, but they do not claim to have "unlimited" usage for their connections. As I pointed out above, they may have in the past, but T&C changes would have taken care of that for the exisiting users. So, all of you who claim to know anything about everything, did you even bother to actually research the Comcast website before making proclaimations about how it says it's unlimited? Geez, no wonder business tunes out the masses. The masses are a bunch of uninformed morons who can't be bothered to actually research something before contracting a case of the oral runs.

    Not to mention, this issue is not with capping, though it was brought up in the comments almost immediately, but with how Comcast shapes the traffic going over it's net.

  41. This post has been deleted by its author

  42. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    So what report did the Richard Bennett read ?

    I dunno, but it doesn't sound like the one I read !

    The EFF report was pretty good - it identified the problem, what Comcast are doing, and why IT IS VERY BAD.

    It's not about bandwidth management/traffic control - which I happen to think is reasonable provided the company is open and up front about it.

    It's about an ISP deliberately setting out to cause problems for their customers, and then lying about it when someone notices. There ARE 'acceptable' ways of dealing with excess traffic - what you actually do depends on what your objectives are and what technology you have/are willing to provide.

    But sending faked RST packets is NOT an acceptable way to behave. Suggesting that other techniques (such as dropping excess packets, delaying them in a long buffer, or several other options) are "only trivially different" from sending faked RST packets shows a complete absence of any understanding of networking !

  43. Robb Topolski

    Far more experts disagree with Richard Bennett than agree with him...

    Read through the comments on the NNSquad mailing list, the public statements of noted Internet founders and experts, and you'll see that Richard Bennett is in the minority on this matter.

    Furthermore, when you attempt to discuss these facts with Richard (or his "Mini-Me" ZDNet columnist George Ou), they both resort to personal attacks rather than fact-based answers. They both intend to win by pure endurance what they cannot win based on the facts.

    For all of Richard's years in the field, which I acknowledge and respect, his article and the several nearly-duplicate tomes that he has wrtten on the subject are riddled with factual errors and suppositions on his belief, and not on data. His belief is based on his often-mistaken understanding of BitTorrent specifically and the robustness of IP-based protocols in general. We need not list these errors again, because Richard believes he is correct despite any facts to the contrary. However, read the numerous comments to his past diatribes, and it becomes obvious that Richard doesn't read and consider when he can write and pontificate, instead.

    There is nothing wrong with faith, Richard, until it is added to stubbornness.

    --Robb Topolski

  44. Alan Donaly

    EFF has problems,

    ISP's have more they are overselling their bandwidth we know that they are lying to the consumer the p2p kerfuffle will end for technical reasons it's possible to "fix" this little inconvenience and will be soon. The real problem is they aren't prepared to deliver the full measure of their service to every customer and they aren't willing to pay to change this. The EFF are making too much of this it isn't religion it's an attempt to stay in the public eye, to stay relevant and I suppose has met with some success if it's too much so be it I think them going toe to toe with the NSA's little helpers has given them some credibility and shrillness notwithstanding this does warrant some support. It's not religion it's required for a free society it's freedom of the press and others thats not faith we all know it's needed it's been proven.

  45. Richard Bennett
    Black Helicopters

    @Robb Topolski

    I'm sure glad you don't engage in personal attacks, Robb.

    Saying "We need not list these errors again, because Richard believes he is correct despite any facts to the contrary" doesn't cut the mustard; post a factual claim.

  46. Max

    @Robb Topolski


    Would you please back up your position with some facts? What we are focusing on here is the behaviour and limitations of specific access layer technology, not the "Internet."

    Also, most "noted Internet founders and experts" haven't touched a real operational network in many many years (Vint), and I state that bozos like Craig Newmark are hardly "Internet" experts. They're bloody webmasters, and mostly likely wouldn't be able to explain the difference between ATM and Ethernet if you blocked their access to wikipedia.

    Please go read some books, I'd specifically recommend anything by Oliver Heckmann as a good start.


  47. Lord Reptor

    packet sniffing freaks

    I'm on a chunk of Anik F2 out here on my lovely little rock (too deep to swim to when the food runs out, city fools!). My lovely ISP (xplornot), after colluding with my installer either by mistake or a'purpose and installing me on their top-tier without telling me (my credit card melted and mucked up my wallet), proceeded to crank up their new Sandvine box or whatever it is and spoof the piss out of my outgoing.

    Now, I'm a sharing kinda guy - but I have no interest in phat pipes. I look for and share unusual stuff that I can't find - not any of this 'prawn' or whatever you limey monkey descendants are on about, but old jazz, rare anime, old tv documentaies from crispy old videotapes in stinky old cabinets - you know. And I don't mind waiting around a bit. A bit. Not forever.

    However, not only does my speed not quite match what's advertised (which I didn't actually order, but hey, who needed Christmas money anyway) - i.e. multiple tests averaged 33K up und 893K down on a supposed 2000Kdown/500K up package ($203CDN!!per month!!aaaagggghh!), peaking at 1563K down/88Kup (aaagggghh!), but every and any attempt to make any kind of outgoing network connect to score my smoky old records has been either totally blocked or shaped to the point of unrecognizability.

    Intermittently (and sometimes during what should be high congestion times, sometimes not (my tests, by the way, were generally done at 2 in the morning while cursing steadily) things are better, and I get some scraps. In three months, I have uploaded a bit under a gig (on the sharing - I'm not counting surfing requests etc) and gotten about 1.5 gigs back, across several sadly incomplete, lovely, and relatively (to what some of you lot are up to) moral files. Now that I've got onto the plan I did order ($90CDN/mo = 1000Kdown/128Kup), my download tests are a bit worse (avg 634K) and upload unchanged. As is the packet spoofing crap.

    The author of this sad slip for the Reg is no doubt aware that the ol' Great Firewall of China is made of similar bricks to the ones in this Wall?

    The net is about talking as well as listening. What our ISPs and their buddies have in mind is called TV.

    Revolted by the Reg's sad take on the sitch,

    Lord R.

    PS i2p - go find out.

    PPS I don't use a Bittorrent client. No interest. Not much out there I'm after in that particular format. So packet spoofing is certainly not RoundUp for BT. It's more like DDT.

  48. Robert Harrison

    Re: @ If Morely Dotes was an ISP


    Maybe because the organisations spitting out all the half truths and BS know that consumers like you will just roll over and take it from them rather than properly exercising your consumer rights. And you even think that this 'turning a blind eye' makes you intellectually superior. Moron.

  49. GottaBeKidding


    I'm afraid I have to call bull once again on this article. Cable modems for the past 8 or so years they have been around have implemented traffic shaping _on the router itsself_.

    This is trivially demonstrable by the ability of users to upload a fake configuration file to the router to "uncap" their bandwidth restriction.

  50. Martin Owens

    Interesting But

    It appears your attacking the EFF for trying to do good things, just in the wrong way. The problem is that your attacking them instead or trying to help. Bit of a shame really since we could do with a bit more principle and less of "the religion of the practical" where everything must be practical and everything must be balanced (in the sense that it's between the two points of view your allowed to see).

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the freeloaders that want their unlimited Internet connection

    No, they want what the business is claiming to sell them.

    The ISP has a price attached to their "unlimited" product, should the customer consider their price to be bullshit as well?

    It's fraud pure and simple, and they should be in trouble for it, the ISP's are just lying thieving bastards. They're offering a product they know full well they can't deliver in an attempt to fool people into giving them money.

    I pay full fare for my connection, and it isn't an "unlimited" one. I also agree with your traffic analysis, clearly it's mostly music and video that hasn't been paid for. The way to control this is to have a legitimate contract that charges per megabyte, not to simply lie about what you can offer in an attempt to rip off the gullible.

    Thieving scum.

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