back to article Comcast admits it can do the impossible

Faced with continued scrutiny from the US Federal Communications Commission, Comcast has agreed to release its choke hold on BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer traffic. It says it will soon adopt an alternative method of controlling upload traffic on its cable-based internet service. This also means that Comcast has …


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  1. Patrick
    Thumb Up

    The Bad and Ugly List

    Bad ISP list (worldwide listings):

    GO Italians.. Gemini Project LiveCDs to test if your ISP is blocking you

  2. Sabahattin Gucukoglu

    And when you've quite finished messing about ...

    Do you think you could just spare the five minutes required to do outbound port 25 blocking from your customers by default? It's just, you know, that might be a really good start to cutting out wasted bandwidth, and then maybe you'd find yourself less needful of this data-damaging nonsense. And it'd help the world's spam volume, too. Go on, tech boys, you know you want to. Perhaps if you saw how obnoxious your marketing dept was, you'd see sense. This, for instance:



  3. Richard Bennett
    Dead Vulture

    More confused than ever

    Let's try to get a few things straight, one last time. In the first place, Comcast and BitTorrent, Inc. have reached an agreement, not an "agreement" with scare quotes. You may not like it, Cade, but it is what it is.

    In the second place, not a single person on the planet has ever argued at any time that TCP RSTs were the only way to manage a cable network overloaded with traffic. It may be the best way, or the quickest way, or the most reasonable way, or the cheapest way, but no one has ever claimed it's the only way. So your title is ridiculous.

    And finally, nobody in their right mind wants to see a hard cap on upstream traffic rates in a cable modem network that's suitable for the overload case in which everybody is seeding BitTorrent, and that isn't what Comcast is implementing. What they're doing is using the power of the CMTS scheduler to control the rates at which level 2 frames enter the cable channel. Briscoe wasn't aware that this was an option.

    Robb Topolski proposed this method in a comment to one of your previous National Enquirer-inspired scare pieces on the wickedness of Comcast's capitalistic, American ways, so it must be whole grain and organic, if not utterly vegan. It's interesting that he's now flip-flopped and is calling it the end of the world. Pretty much like you are, Cade.

    Funny how that works.

  4. Henry Cobb

    Capacity management is fraud

    The non-fraudulent way of delivering service to your customers is to implement access charges that treat downloads and uploads the same.

    TCP was born with the ability to handle congestion and when your customers are willing to bid up the price for bandwidth the reasonable response is to plow these funds back into your network so you can sell them even more bandwidth, if that is your business model.

    Instead Comcast is in the business of providing content, not access and so they take every step needed to discourage their serfs from surfing off to somebody else's content.

    Give them one more year, and if they are still incapable of separating content and access then break them up and let one group try their hands at providing great content while another provides excellent access, because Comcast isn't doing either.


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    once more, with feeling

    If bandwidth hogs are adversely affecting your network, then STOP SELLING PEOPLE A SERVICE YOU CAN'T PROVIDE!!

    ahh, feel much better now i've gotten that off my chest.

  6. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    My take

    Neutrality is a proxy war for liberal activists: it's a hyper-real simulation of "activism" - with its own "heroes" and "villains". So instead of taking on a big issue like healthcare, which has powerful opponents and which might mean a messy (to nerds) compromise, it's far easier for armchair warriors to "Save The Internet", sign a petition, wear a badge, etc.

    And like all politics (particularly US politics) it's about making a symbolic gesture - it's a power play, demonstrated by adding regulatory obligations to the FTC, or passing a Law.

    Neutrality was dying as an issue last autumn - but these activists really want to Get Their War On - and like the Duke of York, they had already marched 10,000 men up a hill. So any issue that smells of neutrality will do as fuel.

    It didn't help when Comcast's PR drones repeatedly lied to Cade about what they were doing. But what *were* they doing?

    Since Comcast's actions made the BIttorrent application run *better* for *more* people, I find it hard to see how anyone can argue that Comcast "busted" Bittorrent.

    It's like arguing you've "busted" traffic by removing a traffic jam. Or taking a faster journey has somehow "busted" your travel plans. It makes no sense at all - but the term is pejorative, and we have already decided the morality in advance for you.

    But before we are in a position to make a moral judgement on Comcast, we have to permit them the possibility that they may have been acting rationally. And when we do, we see they have to cope with real issues that come with managing a network - like physics (Bittorrents design meets a bug in the DOCSIS protocol) and economics (no customers means no revenue).

    When the network grinds to a halt, customers don't blame the DOCSIS designers, modem manufacturer or Bram Cohen - they blame Comcast, quite naturally. So Comcast had a customer retention crisis. The peak-time throttling wasn't pretty, but it made Bittorrent downloads run better, barely affected uploads, and therefore made most of its customers happier. Crisis averted.

    Yes, I would rather we reported the reality of physics and economics than the fictional hyper-reality created for us by the armchair Neutrality activists.

  7. Trevor

    And again!!!

    I pay for a 8mb downstream 386kb upstream with a 40gb download limit.

    And that is what I will damn well use - coz thats what I damn well pay for.

    I don't pay for a ride on a rollercoaster to go halfway round then be told to get off because I am using all of my seat!

  8. greg

    A small flaw in your view, Andrew Orlowski

    Quoting you :

    "But before we are in a position to make a moral judgement on Comcast, we have to permit them the possibility that they may have been acting rationally."

    If they had been explicitly explaining what they were doing, why, who would benefit and who would not, then everything would be fine. Honest, rational way of taking care of problems.

    Now, lying as they did, allows me to make a moral judgement about them, and call them lyers.

    For the whole subject of bandwith and net neutrality, why wouldn't it be possible to have ISPs make clean, honest contracts ?

    In the mobile phone business, here in Switzerland I got 3 operatots, each offering different contracts, I end with like 15 different possible choices. Harder to find best suitable one, but things are honest.

    In the ISP business, there are 6 choices total, and none is really honest since none can assure you a minimal speed, they are all about possible max speed. Where is the honesty ?

  9. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Thanks for agreeing, Greg

    ... that when Comcast misled Greg, they were lying.

    And thanks for agreeing that ISPs need to make clean, honest contracts. Best of luck finding a "clean, honest contract" anywhere, particularly in the USA. (When 1m+ lawyers have a vested interest in obfuscation). Comcast, as you say, should have been open and transparent in explaining the techniques it was using.

    But there are two immediate issues here, so don't confuse them. One is the matter of PR people lying. The other is the elephant in the room that you have chosen to ignore: was Comcast's network management "immoral"? Or was it ugly but rationally justifiable?

    My argument only contains a "flaw" if you try to look at the picture in such a cross-eyed way, that the two issues become one big blurry blob. You can strain your eyes if you keep doing that - I really don't recommend it.

  10. greg

    Not sure with have 2 diferrent issues, Andrew

    I don't agree that there are really 2 different issues...

    Nobody forces the PR people or sale people to advertize an "All you can eat" business, and they shouldn't if they can't provide the food they promise.

    It's one single issue at the end, there is a limited by physic capacity to a network, you can't sell it like you have more. Or, you can maybe sell a little more than what you really have and people won't notice. But once you really oversold your capacity, starting to use management technics won't change the simple fact you simply oversold it, period. Lying about it only add to the shame of the bad business principles applied.

    See, you can overbook your flights a little, most of the time statistics will be with you and you'll end with full planes and none left behind, but when someone IS left behind, what do air companies do ? Apologize, and offer a small compensation ?

    Or lie, telling you it's your fault because you should have guess that that particuliar flight is always overbooked ?

    Anyway, it's a shame and a bad business. Tell people the truth, or something pretty close to the truth. Sell what you have at the price it is worth. Or else, you should morally be called a crook because that's how you act.

    Hey, at least here in Switzerland you can legally attack a false misleading advertisement, which means even if it's more expensive at least ISP give you what they sell you.

    My apologizes for my bad english, it's not my mother language.

  11. Morely Dotes

    @ Richard Bennett

    "Richard Bennett has argued that BitTorrent puts an unreasonable strain on Comcast's network - and that the company's best option is to clip the app's wings."

    Comcast's wide-open outbound port 25 puts an unreasonable strain on my MX server's spam identification systems. My best option is to file a class action lawsuit against Comcast for knowingly aiding and abetting spam senders, and acting in collusion with them to violate the CAN-SPAM Act.

    Of course, that could be avoided if Comcast would intercept all port 25 traffic leaving customer machines, and prevent them being used as "zombie" spam-relays.

    And as for clipping BitTorrent's wings - since Comcast caps *all* customers at 256kbps outbound, perhaps the fact is that Comcast has oversold their capacity. A lower cap seems necessary - for *all* Comcast customers. Or an investment in infrastructure upgrades.

    How much is Comcast paying you to pretend that their "best" option is to discriminate against and defraud customers who are attempting to use that which has been sold to them by Comcast?

  12. Morely Dotes

    @ Andrew Orlowskii

    "Neutrality is a proxy war for liberal activists: it's a hyper-real simulation of "activism" - with its own "heroes" and "villains". So instead of taking on a big issue like healthcare, which has powerful opponents and which might mean a messy (to nerds) compromise, it's far easier for armchair warriors to "Save The Internet", sign a petition, wear a badge, etc."

    Don't be an ass. Oh, I apologize, it's apparently in your nature, and in your fiscal interests, you can't help it.

    What makes you think we "armchair warriors" aren't *both* working for universal healthcare, *and* attempting to preserve an open Internet?

    Ah, but you're a yellow-press hack, aren't you? Fairness and reasonableness are counter-productive to that sort of ass.

  13. Anonymous Coward


    You said :

    "Since Comcast's actions made the BIttorrent application run *better* for *more* people, I find it hard to see how anyone can argue that Comcast "busted" Bittorrent."


    That could only technically have been true if BitTorrent were an old-school source to sink download engine. Which is isn't. BitTorrent is a properly synchronous peer to peer engine, which means that if you force nodes in its distributed network into an artifically asynchronous mode by disabling their ability to upload, YOU COMPLETELY FUCK THE NETWORK as a whole.

    The irony is, that the more people out there running BitTorrent clients, the less distance the bulk of the data has to be sent and the lower the overall bandwidth on main trunks. The exception here is distributions of limited interest - which will obviously see higher data volumes between fewer nodes, but these owing to their lesser frequency impose less bandwidth usage on the carrier network.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the argument that says - the carrier has sold me a network connection which can yield such-and-such bandwidth, for which I am paying them so much every month so I have a right to utilise the connection.

    Question - If high utililisation of that connection causes them such a problem, they why do their tarriffs not reflect this?

    Answer - Its because these greedy corporations expect us all to be passive consumers. Thats how they make the enormous amounts of money for their equally greedy shareholders.

    It upsets everything they are about when we actively interact with the world - wanting to *upload* data as well as *download* upsets them a great deal because it breaks the neat 'consumer' model. You're supposed to be sitting in your armchair consuming pay-per-view and consuming downloaded web pages from e-commerce sites, occasionally uploading the odd packet of data containing your username, password and - they hope - 'shopping cart' cookie and credit card number.

    When you are merely a consumer of data, they are creaming money not only from you but also the countless upstream services and advertisers. Ah! But when you are a *producer* of data, *thats* not lucrative - you the individual are the only one paying them any money to carry that data...

    Screw broadband. Give me a synchronous connection and I'll bloody well pay for it. And *use* it.

  14. Mike

    A little history

    Communication companies have been "overbooking" for over 100 years.

    Rule of thumb is that Telco COs are provisioned for approximately 15% of their subscribers off hook, max, at any given time. Numbers are typically smaller for number of subscribers who can be setting up a call, and typically a bit higher for certain "class of service" lines (the technical justification for a "business line" being charged more than a "residential" line, although often the actual reason also considers some PUC artificially limitting residential rates, and telcos subsidizing them by jacking up Business rates, "because they can"). This was true when the "number of connections" limit was cord-pairs on a switchboard and the "number of simultaneous call-setups" limit was how many operators were on duty. It's still true when "cord pairs" are "fabric bandwidth" and "operators" are tasks running on the supervisory processor. Packet switching trades "setup" for "fabric waste", because those operators are getting cheaper by the minute (Moore's law), but TANSTAFFL. There is always a limit. The rise of modem-connected Prodigy (et al.) users put a real kink in those expectations, with results including the famous "Modem tax" that keeps resurfacing as urban legend.

    Bottom line: If you want a dedicated OC768 to a non-"funny" peering point, and an SLA that guarantees it stays up or you don't pay, you can get it. Just not for $60/month. If you actually believe Comcast (or whoever) then I have a FTL flying car to sell you. More likely, you are like the guy who buys a $20 "Rolex" and tries to get it repaired under warranty. :-)

  15. Robb Topolski

    @Bennett -- I haven't flip-flopped on anything...

    > Robb Topolski proposed this method

    > in a comment to one of your previous

    > [articles]. It's interesting that he's now

    > flip-flopped and is calling it the end of the world.

    The BitTorrent/Comcast "agreement" (scare-quotes intended) isn't worth the paper that it's NOT written on.

    1. Comcast's string of deceptions shows that this is a company with a bad credibility rating.

    2. BitTorrent, Inc. was not appointed by the FCC complainants, the millions of Comcast HSI customers, nor the users of the worldwide Internet to represent them.

    3. Despite Comcast's repentant change-of-heart, they have granted themselves an additional 9 months to keep interfering with its users' choices of applications before (they claim) they will finally stop doing so. (It's only been 6 months since the AP article hit the wires.)

    ASK YOURSELF THIS: Why did Comcast need any statement by BitTorrent Inc.? Couldn't Comcast do the right thing anyway?

    BitTorrent's statements seem to indicate, "Yes." No changes to BitTorrent will be required for Comcast to switch to a less-abusive method. "There is no dependency on BitTorrent changing anything," Klinker said. (Page 4, paragraph 2, of the above article).

    As for flip-flops, I am vacillating on whether I'd prefer Network Neutrality regulations or some kind of mandatory divestiture between Content Provider XYZ and Transit Provider XYZ. But since BitTorrent Inc. is out there making my decisions for me, what I think isn't going to matter very much.

    Comcast wins the week for successfully pulling its ass out of the fire using nothing but its consistently deceptive PR machine. With BitTorrent Inc. being honorable mention -- whether they're a willing accomplice or a rape victim, I'm still not quite sure. And the jury is still out as to whether the FCC is smart enough to see through this charade.

    Robb Topolski

  16. David
    Dead Vulture

    Is pretty simple RE neutrality

    I pay for x data at y speed. If my ISP cannot provide what I am paying for (outside the occasional breakage - shit happens even to the best systems), they should not be charging me for it.

    It is up to me to chose if, when, and how the data I use is shaped. Not them. There is nothing in the contract that allows them to decide what I use and when.

    If they want to break their contract with me, well, they can do it and pay their fees. Otherwise, they deal with me using the data I am paying for, as I want to use it. Although, I wouldn't mind if they blocked port 25 for all users, so long as they let those who run their own mail servers have that port open..

    Oh, and Mr Orlowskii - since you generally don't let people comment on your articles (other than by email), should you be commenting on others? :)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "There is nothing in the contract that allows them to decide what I use and when."

    "There is nothing in the contract that allows them to decide what I use and when.


    I havent (yet) seen a residential broadband contract that didn't explicitly state that your service couldn't be subcontracted to a 3rd party. Downloading Bit Torrents is still subcontracting even if you are not charging for it (as you are simultaneously uploading content on behalf of a 3rd party to a 3rd party).

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