back to article Comcast rolls out brand new bandwidth throttles

Update: This story originally quoted from a piece from The New York Times. But The Times has largely rewritten its story, and after several calls, Comcast has responded to our requests for comment, so we have removed all quotes from The Times. Comcast is testing a brand new means of throttling traffic on its cable-based …


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  1. Luke Bearl


    So... if they are going to slow the connection (since most people pay for a certain speed), are they also giving those customers a discount, or are customers just not allowed to use the service that they are paying for?

  2. Anonymous Coward

    What a joke


    "We are trying to figure out what do customers want, what techniques need to be in place to create the best user experience."

    Well i can tell you what comsumers want:

    Comsumers want what they have PAID FOR.

    Comsumers want no illegal censoring of the internet

    Comsumers want no illegal filtering system

    Comsumers want Comcast to be fined several millions as a pusnishment for trying to illegally preventing users from enjoying the service they have paid for.

    Since comcast is no longuer a legitimate company the right thing to so is close it down, jail for extended period of time the owners (for massive multi-millions consumer fraud) and sell it asset to competitor. only this will serve a deterrent for other crooked ISP who will be tempted to bow to MPAA/RIAA pressure to clamp down on users enojying their bandwidth. hey wait a minute. why not just shutown down the MPAA/RIAA in the 1st place! this will solve this non sense once anf for all.

  3. James Butler

    BitTorrent Sucks, but...

    BitTorrent grabs as much bandwidth as possible without regard for any other service that might be sharing that bandwidth, so I do think the arguments against its use, in this regard, are fair. BitTorrent programmers, listen up: Stop your filthy resource hogging before government hamstrings your product!

    But I think it will be interesting when the "local loop" subscribers who are running hi-def televisions become a majority. Don't tell me Comcast et al. will start throttling hi-def subscribers ... that won't happen despite the obvious bandwidth hogging they do.

    The simple fact is that cable loops have been oversold, and, without the required infrastructure upgrades to all-fibre all-the-time, this problem will only get worse.

    So please kill BitTorrent ... it's a crappy idea, crappily executed, but don't pretend that it's the freetards who are draining your bandwidth. There simply isn't enough to go around.

    Blue Man because your networks are belong to us ...

  4. Corey Maddocks

    It's not just bittorrent

    What about people paying for and legitimately downloading movies and TV shows from iTunes? or a hobbyist downloading multiple Linux distros? Installing Windows SP3 to multiple computers? Using a remote backup company? This list of legitimate mass downloads reaches far beyond just p2p. The real problem is that the ISP's need to spend cash to upgrade their bandwidth and they refuse.

    I'm patiently waiting for FiOS in my part of the country.

  5. Hrishikesh

    Dynamic Throttling?

    Throttling users based on how much they peak at? That's a load of bollocks (cajones?) given that they are striving to reduce overall network load.

    The way I see it is this (and IANACCIJKLNMOP, so YMMV and all that):

    If I am torrenting the latest and greatest file (say, Kubuntu-8.04), at peak speed (I am on 6 Mbit down / 768 up) I get maybe 400-500 KBps, and the ISO is down in a few minutes. After this is done, I would most likely be playing with the new ISO, and my internet usage would be fairly low for the most part.

    If I get throttled 5 minutes into my download, not only is my average speed going down (thereby increasing my wait == my frustration at "this sh*t internet connection"), I'm also INCREASING the network load (due to their own SYN reset policy - no resets happen till I begin seeding).

    A much better alternative (and something that I as a user would surely appreciate) is to give the customer 2 options (sorry Simon!)

    1: If you intend to use BitTorrent a lot, you can use it (unrestricted) during our off-peak (say 12 midnight to 8am). In such a case, your daytime use will be restricted to (say) 1 Mbps max.

    2: If you are not a heavy P2P user, we'll give you unrestricted access all day, but slow you down if you exceed (e.g. X GB/week)

    Might as well get me coat while I wait for ISPs to start making sensible decisions (and I *have* worked at a small one, mind).

  6. Mark


    Almost all BT clients have the ability to throttle. Either by limiting bandwidth assigned, limiting the number of connections, or both.

    Some even use traffic shaping rules.

    So no need to get your whities twisted. Just check the options page.

  7. Chad H.
    Thumb Down

    Errrr Ummm

    Why do we have one register reporter slagging off another on the register itself? (I assume the Richard Bennet thats posted is this Richard Bennet: , and not the former Canadian Prime minister) Shouldn't your personal disputes be kept behind closed doors, as its hardly a professional look?

    As for working out what comcast's customers want... Maybe they should start by looking at how many subscribers are subscribed to each package, and whats in the package. I've got this funny feeling that perhaps customers want what they signed up for.

  8. Ashlee Vance (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Errrr Ummm

    That is the same RB, as far as I know.

    It seems pretty in keeping with The Register's style to allow for difference of opinion on something between our reporters. (RB is only an occasional contributor.)

    That said, the barbs in the comment section don't strike me as the most productive or civil way to go about things.

  9. dr2chase

    Bittorrent does not suck

    It works great; it's a protocol that allows your effective bandwidth (if you have something to share with the world) to scale with your popularity.

  10. gman


    ...You apparently don't understand how bittorrent actually works. It doesn't go out and "grab all the bandwidth it can". Two things affect how much bandwidth bittorrent will grab while you use it on your computer. 1) The download rate is proportionate to the upload rate you set. Even when downloading a file with over 200 seeds and several hundred peers I have never actually hit the 10 MB/s cap on my cable internet connection. 2) Most cable connections are asymetrical with far lower upload rate than download rate. This in itself guarentees bittorrent cannot just "grab all the bandwidth it can".

    Bittorrent has been mad the scapegoat by the music and movie industry but in all honesty more people eat up bandwidth streamming ripped tv episodes and new release movies from sites like tudou and megavideo. Let us also not forget the movie and warez pirates using Usenet. Their downloads truly do eat up every bit of available bandwidth and considering most people using something like Usenext pay a monthly fee they definitely try to get their moneys worth by downloading everything they can.

  11. Chris C

    Define 'disproportionate'

    I would love to know how Comcast defines "disproportionate". Disproportionate to what? My usage history? The guy next door watching (legal) streaming TV shows or movies? A grandmother who only uses the internet for email?

    As for what their customers want, that's easy --

    1a. We want what we pay for. If I'm paying for "up to" 8Mbps downstream speed, I expect to reach 8Mbps most of the time. I understand you may not be able to guarantee bandwidth, which is why I'll accept slower speeds sometimes. But I should be able to reach 8Mbps most of the time (in other words, 8Mbps should be my average available bandwidth).

    1b. We want what we pay for. We expect to be able to use our bandwidth continuously. You define your service as unlimited. That's what I signed up for, that's what I agreed to, so that's what I expect. Contrary to marketing droids and greedy corporations, "unlimited" means "without limit". It does not mean "an arbitrary value we, the corporation, set and may change at any time". If you want to set caps, then set them. But be up front about it. Anything less is false advertising. I'm told there used be regulations against that.

    2. We want all terms and conditions explained in explicit detail. Think of it as a contract, since that's how you view it. You, the corporation, would never consider signing a contract whose terms were not accurately defined. Why should we, the customers, be expected to? For example, the Comcast high-speed internet terms and conditions state that you (the customer) agree to be bound by all bandwidth and other limitations, without explaining what those limitations are. When I asked the regional sales rep about that (to whom I had already signed up three of my clients for Comcast business-class internet service), the sales rep tried to avoid the issue, saying she and her manager wanted to take me out to lunch to alleviate my concerns. When I reiterated that I wanted to know what those limitations were, she stopped responding to my emails.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We have this already in the UK

    It's called VirginMedia

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Transparency is the key

    I never would have believed that there was anything about Australian broadband that was better than the USA, however we have good transparency of what your actually paying for. Many ISPs employ throttling when you exceed quotas, but they are publish all related details so you know up front what your getting.

    Before you sign up for a broadband plan you have access to:

    Bandwidth rating: ISPs are very quick to say this is a theoretical maximum that may not be possible on your line.

    Traffic Quota: this is sometimes broken into Peak and Off Peak

    Quota Breach action: Charge or Throttle

    Excess charges: cost per Mb/Gb (some have a maximum cap, some don't)

    Throttle Speed: (a small minority even apply the throttle to only the quota breached ie peak or off peak)

    In fact provides the ability to search all published broadband plans in Australia using most of the above as criteria (and a few others like setup costs and contract periods)

    Most of the relevant information is right there in the results while some of the finer details (like the ISPs definition of peak and off peak times, or whether uploads count towards quota) are available within 1 or 2 clicks.

    Of course the technically illiterate don't understand this information and just use the most convenient (mostly the much more expensive* incumbent telco Telstra ).

    * statement based on comparison of a Telstra ADSL2 25Gb plan (approx $100) against 30Gb ADSL2 plans from TPG, et al (approx $60)

  14. heystoopid

    Curiouser and Curiouser

    Curiously , it would appear where Comcrap rules absolutely and they have no direct competition they roll out these arbitrary rules of what you pay for you don't get and yet in other areas where they have competition they leave well enough alone knowing full well the end user will walk away from the same evil treatment and sign up with the competition in droves for that is what free market rules are all about !

    Essentially Comcrap is basically saying our contract for bandwidth on the intertubes are works of fiction and are not worth the paper they are written on and our services we offer are crap as well so we take your money under false pretences and fraud and since we are the the only dealer in town kiss my A*### !

    Interestingly , a number of technical articles and researchers have shown that Bit Torrent is quite fair in the bandwidth usage and is not as large as the so called piracy claimants make out as they are basing all in the phoney belief that it has cost them at least seventy five percent of the existing market from the changes they have done unto themselves at the end of the last century and the existing market has decided they have had enough of these snake oil salesmen and moved their choices on in another direction ! If only the market falls to five percent of the last year of the last century then even the industry will turn upon them and treat them like the pariahs they always were !

    Choices , I wonder if some one in these infected uncompetitive communities floats a simple Community Broadband by power lines Manassas , Virginia Style will Comcrap haul up the white flag ! Or will they continue to oppose it with numerous vacant red herrings like they have tried to do so often with fictitious reporting by paid third parties about power line RF pollution mainly coming from very old dirty cracked insulators well past their use by date which is all to common in this age of zero maintenance until it fails mentality that is all too pervasive in the land of the paranoid and nonsensical manipulated democracy with total profit before any customer ?

  15. Hrishikesh

    @Actually (gman)

    BT works by "grabbing all the download bandwidth" to pull data, and "grabbing all the upload bandwidth" to push data. If it so happens that the peers you have are all on choked 10 kbps connections, you never will get very much download speed, even if your actual line speed is 10 Mbps.

    The problem with BT is not that it grabs up to the limit (where the limit can be reduced by a sufficiently clueful user - or a clueful ISP tech who tells the user), but rather that people don't know about this limit (like Mark said) and let it suck up the whole available pipe.

    On the you-get-what-you-share note: my BT client happily pulls at 500 KBps (i.e. close to 4Mbps) even with an upload cap of about 500 Kbps (around 60 KB/s) - i.e. a 10:1 on down:up.

    The other problem with BT is due to the nature of P2P traffic - if you have 200 connections, you are also sending data to 200 connections (as against FTP where you have only 1 connection). Routing 200 connections across the series of tubes is a lot more CPU intensive than routing one. And when you have a million people, the hardware capacity maxes out disproportionately quickly (possibly even before the backhaul pipe maxes out) - it would be interesting if any of you who work at an ISP can post stats about this!

    Like AC from OZ said before me - transparency is the key. If you know exactly what you signed up for, and you and the ISP both stick to what you signed up for, there wouldn't be this discussion to begin with!

    (I'm still getting my coat over BitTorrent ... sh*t ISP...)

  16. inverse

    James Butler for a darwin award

    Bittorrent does not suck.

    Maybe you find the options difficult to fathom but throttling is available.

    Find a good well programmed client, (YOU)torrent is a very good example, with a built in web interface.

    When i give bittorrent the full run on my gigabit fibre connection the speeds are insane.

    Please explain again how it sucks.

  17. McIntyre

    Spend the $ on expansion

    Comcast should spend their money, time, and energy on increasing their system capacity rather than spending it on finding ways to throttle their existing customers. Of course if we had real competition producing a real choice for broadband in the USA people could move to systems that gave them what they paid for.

  18. Andy Worth


    As far as I'm concerned, they can throttle the fuck out of connections, as long as they stop advertising "unlimited" broadband. The same goes for any ISP who make the offer of unlimited bandwidth, it's false advertising plain and simple. Making these offers and then hiding bandwidth throttling clauses in your T&C's should not be classed as legal.

  19. John

    err... what?

    ""We're looking at three hardware-software solutions. And we're trying to figure out which one delivers the best overall customer experience.""

    Wouldn't "best overall customer experience" be the one where bandwidth limiting was eschewed in favour of spending the money on mode bandwidth rather than new equipment, software and testing periods?

    I really despise companies dressing up f**king you in the a** as them doing you a favour. The UK ISP's have become experts at it and honestly, I'm starting to chaff "down there" :[

  20. Doug Glass

    No No No, Don't Fine Comcast

    Fines are a waste of time; they're never large enough to hurt. Force Comcast to cut customer bills by x% for a specified period of time. That would have to be followed by close monitoring to prevent "revenue enhancing actions" to recoup lost revenue but that's fairly easy.

    I never want punitive actions to benefit government, I want them to benefit me.

    Oh yeah, and castrate a few of their top executives for good measure. We need their sort of thinking out of the gene pool

  21. Elmer Phud
    IT Angle


    "Well, he said I had broken an unwritten law and then he nails me head to a coffee table" "What law was that?" "Dunno, it was unwritten, see".

    (Apols to Pythons).

    Or are Comcast more like the Spanish Inquisition -- having to make up the rules as they go along?

    This isn't about I.T. it's about abuse of power.

  22. Nicholas Wright
    IT Angle


    Actually - FTP uses two connections:

    1 x data

    1 x control

    I think "Passive" makes you use only one connection.

  23. Slaine
    Thumb Down

    @ Richard Bennett

    I do not see the term "Black Listing" within the article and since you attack the author and not his sources you are yourself apparantly now in error. Your accusation of a "lack of integrity" on the part of the author completely fails to address the concepts of 'artistic licence' and 'inspired creative writing'. Your comment borders on libel.

    Has the article been re-written after your comment? or are you, Dick, simply full of sh1t and desperately in need of a dump?

    If the former, perhaps an apology is in order for the vicious nature of your spite, if the latter I suggest El Reg dump you sooner rather than later because when I make a half-arsed inflamatory comment like yours Sarah Bee normally censors it for me and stops me looking like a complete jerk. (Thanx Babe, keep it up).

  24. Blockhead


    "Transparency is the key" - by Anonymous Coward

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The suits have merit

    Actually I think the lawsuits have merit. Its not about CC interfering with packets etc. They can if they decide and notify their customers of such changes. Their TOS states they can change terms at anytime. The problem here, is CC did so without notifying their subscriber base. And continued to deny these facts when confronted by the press and the FCC themselves. CC is in major trouble now. There is plenty of documentation that will prove they failed to communicate these changes and it will be very difficult if not impossible for them to spin this any other way. In states like California where there are strong consumer laws, I see major fines coming forward. And I think Comcast needs to be fined heavily since they have been guilty of deceptive practices for too long now. There really needs to be an example made here and I don't believe for one second these lawsuits are frivolous.

  26. Jeffrey Nonken

    @Nicholas Wright

    "I think "Passive" makes you use only one connection."

    Ummmm, no. It means the client initiates every transaction (thus the server is passive).

  27. Michael

    The Way It Works

    Bit Torrent is a full mesh distribution model that profoundly reduces the burden at any particular measuring point as compared to the client-server model where everyone on the planet that wants the new Linux must get it from one server. In fact, the peculiar nature of Bit Torrent works BETTER the more people want a file such as the new Linux, whereas with a traditional model, trying to download Linux directly from RedHat at the same time ten million other people are doing so is a "non starter". You see, parts of what I am trying to get might be available from people on my same cable segment and thus the "internet" won't be involved whatsoever for those particular parts or chunks of the file I want.

    Torrents emanate from a published website and have digital hashes (SHA-1) to ensure file integrity. As such, Bit Torrent is culturally very different from Kazaa or Limewire. Kazaa and LimeWire make no claims about the files you get from total strangers in Tanzania.

    With BitTorrent, you *might* get a bit from Tanzania, but not the whole file, so there is no way to infect your computer with an altered file. You only get pieces called "chunks" (A chunk is rather big, typically 256kbytes I've read somewhere). Each chunk has a digital hash to ensure that even the chunk was not altered and you get the list of hashes from the original publisher.

    LimeWire/Kazaa: Unsafe, no assurances, easily tampered files, your download speed cannot be faster than the uploader's speed. You expose an entire folder of your own files to the world (did I mention unsafe?).

    Bit Torrent: Safer. Usually you can discover the author and provenance of the file. Tampering by middle-men is as close to impossible as makes no difference. Because of distribution, your download speed can be profoundly faster than any particular contributor ("seeders") upload speeds, including your own upload speed. What you are sharing is, by default, ONLY what you are currently downloading; people cannot browse your hard disk.

    McAfee antivirus has a mechanism similar to Bit Torrent, they call it "Rumor". The idea is that one PC will download the current antivirus signature files and then publish it on a private webserver that is installed on your PC without a lot of notice to you. Other PC's on your local subnet will get it from whichever one has the most recent files.

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