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back to article Harold and Kumar go to Comcastle

The coalition of the frustrated who comprise Save the Internet! have filed a multi-trillion dollar complaint with the FCC regarding Comcast's blatant exercise of, um, reasonable network management. The key fact seems to be this: if you live in a dream world of secret manipulative forces, evil wizards, fire-breathing dragons, …

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Dead Vulture

Regardless of your view, this is crap.

"TCP Reset is a digital busy signal"

That is such an outlandish and incorrect statement that its mere inclusion means you should forever disregard both the opinion piece and the author.

Readers without a sponsored agenda may begin by reading RFC 793.

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What a load of crock...

Comcast's network is comcast's property.

They can do what they want to within their network. Don't like it, then move to another network provider.

You want fast speeds? go get your own T1.

While the author correctly mocks the lawsuit, he fails to point out the issue that Comcast has the legal right to manage their network as they see fit.

How does net neutrality have anything to do with this issue since we're talking about Comcast's own network and not a peering relationship?

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Kinda biased and missing the point

Apart from the fact that this article sounded like it was a paid advertisment for Comcast, the author has forgotten a major point:

Regardless of what I use my connection for, I have a contract stating I have access to a speed of Z on uploads and a speed of Y on downloads. I should be getting this bandwidth (or a reasonable facsimile of it). If the ISP is having trouble supplying it then THEY HAVE GROSSLY UNDERESTIMATED THEIR MARKET AND SHOULD RETHINK THEIR OFFERING.

I mean, really. Can you imagine going to the butcher's asking for 1Kg (that's ~2.5lb) of steak, paying for 1Kg of steak but being told that since the butcher underestimated the amount of steak people wanted to buy, and to make it fair to other steak-buyers, I will only get a "fair use" portion of steak. So thank you for paying for 1Kg and here's your 800g.

Which is what most ISPs are doing with bandwidth - they *know* they can't supply the bandwidth they "sold" to customers, so we now have "fair use" restricting the bandwidth you can use.

And I don't care if they advertise the speed as "up to X", that's legalese crap and I stay away from any ISP that tries it. I am with an ISP that provides me with a 512Kb "all you can eat" and they deliver it. Yes, they have higher speed plans - but they've done their homework: if you want "all you can eat", you will do it at 512Kb, not at 20Mb. *That* is good technical research and good marketing and it keeps your customers from having a sour taste in their mouth when you inform them that you won't deliver what you promised (just read the small print where we inform you all of our above promisess are fairy tales at best).

So stop giving me biased-sounding columns on how the poor ISPs are hard done by people who want to download from the Internet (I won't discuss the legality of the actual contents, that is another talk for another time) and start telling me why ISPs are allowed to use fairy tales in their adverts.

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Paris Hilton

Ahahahaha oh wow

For someone who accuses people who disagree with you of "living in a dream world of secret manipulative forces, evil wizards, fire-breathing dragons, scary ghosts and freaky monsters," you do a pretty good Green Ink comment yourself. Evil Internet regulators are eeeeeevil. Consumer rights advocates are even more eeeeeevil. Hilarious.

Lets get back to talking about Paris Hilton and leave this sort of thing to "conservative" talk radio please.

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good article

I liked that article. Nice balance to the several comcast-torrent fear-mongering articles previously on thereg.

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Sorry but he misses the point entirely

The point of contention is not comcast managing or restricting traffic as it crosses their network {as is their intent and right}

its the method they use to achieve the aim

sending tcp rst packets is not an acceptable way of doing this

{effective yes but not acceptable}

{a tcp rst based method relies on the intermediary performing a man-in-in-the-middle style attack on the connection by forging replies from the server to the client saying 'your request was canceled' and from the cleient to the server saying 'please cancel my request'.

this is obviously unnaceptable

the methods for asking a server to slow its responses and asking a client to do simmilar are already available within the scope of the icmp protocol,

forging rst packets stop dead any transfer,

if the client re-tries again later it is not due to the underlying design of tcp but rather through some re-trying built into the client to try and pre-empt this sort of malicious tampering {or in the case of bit-torrent to allow for transfers broken by one side re-booting to resume later} but the re-tries are not within a resonable or short period of time.

the basic issue is not comcasts attempts to limit the effect of this traffic on available bandwith its the method they are employing envolves feeding both sides eronious data, and doing so by forging the source to be the other party. this DOES set a worrying precedent as by allowing this it also opens the door for them to say return a forged page instead of the website you requested or any other type of forged reply, with you the user being none the wiser.

I see nothig wrong with badwith shaping or traffic limiting, {and there are many ways they can achieve this without resorting to this form of forgery, which is the only issue being debated}

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Mars

The normal way but

I'm a happy Comcast user who also found out the "throtling" when downloading a Linux distro. And even sending RST is not nice Comcast should be able to do that, it is their network and it is legal but definitely not nice. What they should not be able to do is to advertise the internet connection as it done today. Tell upfront what and how you do the throttling is OK, don't sneak it in. It's like in (computer) business I have ever done the worst thing is to lie to the customers, it only causes problems. Telling the truth may hurt a little but on long run it always wins the customers to your side. And even if they don't select you they will tell that it was some other reason but next time they check you again because (they think) they can trust on what you are offering. Maybe they are not in long term business ?

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"Can you imagine?"

Aubry Thonon wrote:

I mean, really. Can you imagine going to the butcher's asking for 1Kg (that's ~2.5lb) of steak, paying for 1Kg of steak but being told that since the butcher underestimated the amount of steak people wanted to buy, and to make it fair to other steak-buyers, I will only get a "fair use" portion of steak. So thank you for paying for 1Kg and here's your 800g.

...

Anyone who can remember the last war can easily imagine that; when steak was a scarce resource, this was exactly what happened.

Bandwidth is a scarce resource. QED.

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Flame

Utter crap

I also am a Comcast customer and I hate their service. Well why don't I switch? Because I have no option. They have a monopoly on cable internet in my city. The previous provider (Road Runner) was ten times better. In the 3 years I had them I had 2 outages (both due to weather). In the first 6 months on Comcast I had 7 with clear skies. On top of that we can't browse on two computers at the same time because our connection slows to a crawl. RR never pitched a fit even with 3 or 4 of us GOING TO SIMPLE WEB PAGES. I was even getting billed for a modem I OWNED. I didn't catch it until months in because it was buried on the third page of the paper bill and never even shown on the e-bill (only the total was given, never a break down of charges). The only other option in my city is DSL and the phone company, which wants a premium since I don't have phone service (I have Vonage).

The entire argument of the pro provider side (i.e. schills like the author) is that someone has to pay for the bandwidth. Guess what someone does, ME. I pay for unlimted transfers at a stated speed. Give me the bandwidth I pay for. If its not unlimited tell me how much I get and at what speed. Don't lie and say its unlimited when there is a secret cap (which there is, thats the "secret" portion referred to in the suit). And don't tell me I get 6 (RR gave me 8 reliably and 10 during off peak times) when really its 3 or 4 unless its between midnight and 5 Monday - Friday.

Comcast may own their network, but if they bill it as a buffet they shouldn't put in a speed trap between me and the bacon.

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@Jasmine Strong

What a pointless response. Yes, rationing presents a limited supply per person but that doesn't match what was suggested at all. Price inflation due to scarce supply and not getting the amount you pay for (at the current set prices) are two entirely different situations.

Putting QED at the end of a comment doesn't automatically justify talking b*llocks.

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I smell astro-turfing

While this doesn't exactly qualify as astro-turfing, I'd say that if a user using Bit Torrent for the first time finds that Comcast has started forging RST packets to throttle traffic, then this isn't a "reasonable network management" procedure, but discrimination.

It is a given - and Comcast has admitted to it - that they bill their service as "unlimited" and also sell it as such but secretly cap the bandwidth at a given point. And they refuse to give any real specifics on this cap.

Now they have been caught forging RST packets - pretending to be both ends of the connection - which could be in violation of the laws of several states. Not only that, it is highly deceptive, since they apparently do this to several different types of traffic regardless of whether or not the user is close to the "secret" bandwidth cap.

And Comcast has admitted that they do provide favorable service to certain types of traffic. IIRC, in one of their statements about their practice of forging RST packets to halt Bit Torrent and P2P traffic they stated that this was done to ensure that Gamers have a stable connection. (Yes, those gamers - the ones who will spend excessively large amounts of money to buy a system that will give them absurd frame rates that are so far beyond what the human body is capable of perceiving it's sickening.)

The real question is: Why is Comcast discriminating against P2P traffic? Answer that question and you're a step ahead of most people disgusted over this obvious, blatant discrimination. I, personally, believe it has more to do with "Corporate Culture" than anything else. Gamers and the Average 'net user don't, really, use all that much bandwidth on average, so they will never run into the secret bandwidth cap, and because of Comcast's promise of "Speed Above That of DSL" they will gladly pay the premiums for the service. So the corporate behemoth sees a massive profit in catering to them and doing what they can to ensure that their "favorite" customers remain "Happy Sheep". What do they care if "a few Thieves and Geeks" aren't happy?

Thanks to the US Supreme Court decision that Cable Companies are not "Telecommunications" services, therefore exempt from the "line sharing" rules that Telecom companies are subject to almost every major area is locked to one of the major Cable providers or to a the company that has a regional lock-in. And since this places major limits on the choices people have that means that either: 1) Going to an internet service without the bandwidth they've grown accustomed to or 2) Staying with the service they are dis-satisfied with. With most people not willing to switch to a service that has less bandwidth there is no reason for Comcast to stop the discriminative practice of severly throttling Bit Torrent and P2P traffic.

So the discrimination is almost entirely monetary. However there is another facet to the discrimination - that the Corporate Culture has the view that all P2P and Bit Torrent traffic is for illegal, copyrighted content. (And the stuff that isn't illegal, like most DVD images of Linux distributions, is limited, fringe content and it doesn't matter if it gets blocked)

In the end it comes down to it being nothing more than making money and, well, stupidity.

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You suggest that 5-10mins is not a fair test...

but assert that just because your connection is fine, everyone else's must be. While strongly worded, this is a pretty weak article, with far more emotion than intelligent discussion.

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Stop

Oh dear

See, being the devil's advocate is fine, if you're defending one of his promising-but-fatally-flawed works - communism, eugenics, that sort of thing. It's a bit harder trying to defend something he came up with when he was just being a dick, like paedophilia, cluster bombs and Noel Edmonds. Or, for that matter, throttling bandwidth for certain customers, not telling them you're doing it, and lying to the press when they ask you if you're doing it.

Comcast are indefensible here. Piracy is wrong and illegal, yes, Comcast probably have the right to manage their traffic, yes, but you *cannot* defend not telling the people you're "managing" (i.e. restricting service to) while you continue billing them at the same price, nor can you defend repeatedly lying about it even when multiple press outfits - real press outfits, not bloggers - have confirmed that's what you're doing. Oh, and doing it by sending packets pretending to come from the users - surely a form of identity theft - goes from indefensible to just plain flabbergasting. If I send someone a racist email and falsify the headers to point to someone I don't like, can I call that "reputation management" and not be prosecuted?

Come down from the moral high ground Bennett, it's chilly up there and you don't have a scarf. Or any trousers.

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Hypocrits

What I wonder is who they market these high-speed networks at! Joe Soap doesn't need 20Mb to deal with his dozen e-mails and to browse for cheap holiday flight. Using high-speeds as a marketing differentiator appeals to the high-volume downloader, i.e. those of us engaged in less than legitimate downloads. Then they turn around and tell us we're using unfair amounts of bandwidth, and they must throttle us. In that case, why sell a 20Mb service (or whatever) that you can't support, when you know that people are signing up for it precisely because it says 20Mb?

Virgin have a cap of 3Gb per day. Not an average, mind you, but an absolute cap. So I might use nothing on Monday but on Tuesday, if I go over 3Gb then my connection is throttled brutally. But I'm precisely the kind of user they created 20Mb for - who else would need such speeds? My my calculation, 3Gb at 20Mb is about 20 minutes of full-speed downloading. So they're saying 'you pay for this speed, but you can only use it for 20 mins a day before we throttle you'? Would you buy a car that is capable of doing 100 miles an hour, but only for about 20 minutes day, whereupon it slows to a maximum of 25?

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Excellent article

The point made by Mr Bennett, and missed by so many posters here, is that Comcast was actually helping Bittorrent downloaders, not harming them.

Traffic lights in congestion situations help get you to your destination faster, because they relieve potential jams.

The author + Jasmine Strong are correct.

Unfortunately there are many technically illiterate people who do not understand that this is a shared resource system - and don't understand how Bittorrent works.

How much you think traffic lights are "oppressing" you is a function of your paranoia.

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Boffin

@Aubry Thonon

Very well put.

@Jasmine Strong: I believe that even during wartime rationing, if you were only going to be given 800 grams of meat then you wouldn't be charged for a full kilo -- only for what you received.

I just wish there was a way to avoid the junk mail that keeps coming through my door telling me about cheap (for awhile!) "unlimited" (ha ha!) internet services. I chose my existing provider for the static IP address (just imagine if your phone number changed from day to day!), the complete absence of any blocked ports (if I want any ports blocking, I'll use iptables, thank you), the -genuinely- unlimited transfers and the 20:1 contention ratio; none of which the cheap providers are prepared to offer.

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Aubry's Flawed Steak Analogy

The trouble with this analogy is that it isn't quite like the real issue.

It's unlikely he has a contract that says he can have 512Kbit downloads (or whatever) all the time, unless he's got a leased line.

If you have ADSL, you've got a contract that states you can have 512Kbits/sec, but you're going to share it with 20, or 50, or some other number of users at the same time. It's called "contention ratio" and it's bound to be in the contract somewhere.

Conversely, butchers generally charge you for meat by weight, whereas ISPs are more along the fixed entrance fee, all-you-can-eat sort of lines.

So to use his butcher & steak analogy it would be like him and 49 mates all turning up at the butcher's at the same time, all demanding 1Kg of steak, eating it straight away and demanding another one to immediately replace the one they've just eaten. Obviously something has got to give in this situation, so your virtual butcher is quite likely to come up with some sort of rationing scheme.

The butcher's shop model only like the ISP model in that it relies on the reasonable expectation that the neighbourhood contains people who buy lumps of meat from time to time as they need them, rather than greedy fat bastards who turn up en masse and gorge themselves stupid.

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@Alan Doherty

While TCP RST's would not be a good choice for shaping traffic for things like web browsing or other interactive traffic (BE of EF), it's not a bad way to deal with bittorrent and other p2p protocols that don't play well on the network. At least they don't outright block or filter it like they do with other obnoxious traffic (like NETbios over TCP for instance.)

Targeted TCP RST's allow you to throttle the bit torrent stuff while still providing ample headroom for Webbrowsing and streaming... if you were strictly rate limited to bandwidth queues, your link would suffer fairly awful congestion and you'd be calling Comcast support bitching about the problem. Compounding the issue is you can't just "Rate Limit" bit torrent traffic, as it' hops TCP ports and takes measures to obfuscate itself; dealing with this requires "discrimination" via application fluency or flow analysis.

Even if the cable co's sent out new CPE capable of of dealing with bittorrent in a better fashion, there's no guarantee that the protocol won't get modified in a manner that by passes the new restrictions; they aren't *that* stupid.

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A better anolog:

I see it as being like paying Car tax. You pay to use the road, up to the speed limet. Do you then complaine that there is not enough road at rush hour, as you cant get to the spped limet because of to may cars? Some people do, but not most. As for speed reduction its like congestion charge (But not as unfair). An attempt to limet unfair usage.

And for those people who complain "why should high bandwith users get hert" Well, Its not. If you download video from the net, or play games, then no problem with most companys, but the probalme comes when using P2P. Its a bit like you pay your car tax, so should be able to park wherever you like, blocking roads etc, just for your convinence, so you dont have to walk as far to your front door or somthing. I am sure there are some people who use P2P legaly, but also I can bet that 99% dont. If it was just the odd Linex distro, then I am sure it would be fine, but its not. Its the millions of people using P2P for music and films, all day every day. And dont tell me "but they told me it was unlimited" You know full well that it there is a fair usage policy, and exactly what they mean. You must have known that when buying the line, if not you are either thick or lieing. Ive knowne it with every line Ive had.

Also, cant be botherd to check my spelling. Its late.

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Title

@Craig:

"The only other option in my city is DSL and the phone company, which wants a premium since I don't have phone service (I have Vonage)."

...and you have a problem with *the phone company* charging you a "premium" for puttling in a (high-speed) phone line so you can, among other things, use *someone else's* phone service on it...

...the nerve of those bastards...!

@ Colin Jackson

"What I wonder is who they market these high-speed networks at! Joe Soap doesn't need 20Mb to deal with his dozen e-mails and to browse for cheap holiday flight. Using high-speeds as a marketing differentiator appeals to the high-volume downloader, i.e. those of us engaged in less than legitimate downloads. "

First off, you're assuming that because Joe doesn't always *NEED* fast connections, that Joe doesn't WANT a fast connection available to him at all times. The fact is, IIRC, that studies have shown that average users will cancel/retry/go elsewhere if a site takes more than five or ten seconds to load. Joe wants his web to work and simply "be there" when he wants to use it, just the way that you do.

Secondly, the argument that power/speed is not a valid selling point for Joe and is "clearly" only aimed at power users is given the lie by the large number of Joes in the U.S. who buy Hummers, big-ass pickup trucks and muscle-cars, then never actually go off-road, to construction sites, or race-tracks. Joe wants the feeling that he has that power and speed available to him, whether he ever actually use it or not.

Thirdly, pissing and moaning because "those of (you) engaged in less than legitimate downloads" were tricked by Comcast's "speeds up to..." marketing into believing that you could break the law faster and easier is... well, it would be laughable if it wasn't so sad. This is roughly akin to buying a Maserati then getting pissed at the dealer for not actively telling you that you couldn't drive it at its rated top speed on the streets and that, in recompense, the dealer should build more streets.

Unfortunately, like Malthusian population growth, network usage will always grow to consume all available bandwith and, unless the price of a commodity goes up so drastically that the lower tier of consmers are priced out of the running, the first people to hit the wall of limitations will always be those who feel that they have some "right" to take all that they want and find that they can't.

Welcome to the wall.

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The congestion theory is flawed.

@Paul: Yes, according to how the net works, it would be appropiate to equate road/highway/motorway/whatever networks to internet links, as this is what its all about. Except it isn't the *car* you're buying, you're buying the *road*.

Problem is, the ISP's (Comcast) seem to be selling 4-lane access roads to your front door, full with "EXIT 29A: JOE'S HOUSE" signs ... except once you're on the highway, you find you're stuck on a 2-lane highway. In Comcast's case, it would be one of those 2-lane "expressways" that have at-grade intersections, to add insult to injury.

TCP RST isn't the Internet's Busy signal, it is the "HANGUP" equivalent for phone lines. Does my telco or mobile operator hang up my calls because I've talked more than 20 minutes? No, I don't think so.

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Unhappy

Please stop using terrible analogies

The use of analogies in this thread is getting like a Mexican jumping bean who's trying to wash his hair with soap on Thursday but can only fall down a well and wake up in Slough.

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Red Herring

It is all a smoke screen.

I have been using Bell Canada's Sympatico Service for over 10 years, and they do not throttle p2p applications in any way, it has not degraded the service for anyone.

These companies sell DSL connections up to Speed 'X', if the company has 'Y' customers they better have 'X*Y' bandwidth available or they are guilty of false advertising.

Instead what is happening is that they are splitting their badwidth across too many customers in order to save a few bucks. Then, when enough customers decide to use all of the bandwidth that they were sold by the ISP and now pay for, the network slows. The company then blames the p2p users rather than their own stupid business practices. They cram too many customers on pipes that are too small and then blame us when they don't have enough to go around.

This is as if an airline overbooked one of their flights and then blamed the travellers for being too fat then refused to refund or replace the flight that the customer paid for. I mean what the hell are these vacationers thinking, selfishly hoarding the seat they booked, don't they know that if they use the entire seat there will be other people who won't be able to get on the flight?

A proper ISP would make sure that they have enough capacity for all of their customers to use the full badwidth that they are paying for.

Any ISP that told me I was not allowed to use what I paid for would find themselves short one customer fairly quickly.

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@ Colin Jackson

"Virgin have a cap of 3Gb per day. Not an average, mind you, but an absolute cap. So I might use nothing on Monday but on Tuesday, if I go over 3Gb then my connection is throttled brutally. But I'm precisely the kind of user they created 20Mb for - who else would need such speeds? My my calculation, 3Gb at 20Mb is about 20 minutes of full-speed downloading. So they're saying 'you pay for this speed, but you can only use it for 20 mins a day before we throttle you'? Would you buy a car that is capable of doing 100 miles an hour, but only for about 20 minutes day, whereupon it slows to a maximum of 25?"

http://allyours.virginmedia.com/html/internet/traffic.html

Virgin's cap applies at peak times (which they define as 4pm-midnight). If you download more than 3GB during this time, your maximum speed is reduced to 5Mbps for the next 4 hours. During this time, *you can still download as much as you want* at 5Mbps. Outside these hours, *you can still download as much as you want* at the full 20Mbps.

If you downloaded at 20Mbps for 24 hours, it is physically impossible to download much more than 200GB. Even if you're throttled down to 5Mbps for the entire peak period, in that 24 hour timeframe you can still download over 150GB. Or as the marketing blurb might put it, 30 .iso DVD images *per day*...

So there's no point crying about "brutal" throttling. I'm playing games on the same network, and I'm a paying customer too. You can still download *more video than you can physically watch*, and I don't get crippling lag that makes my game unplayable. Sound fair?

Like Joe Soap, I don't need full speed all the time. But when an update is released for my favourite game, or I join a server with a lot of custom content to download... or when the next episode of Heroes or Lost is aired in the US... or even if I fancy trying out Gutsy Gibbon - that speed is there and it's great. And I can do all of the above in a single evening without hitting 3 GB.

Traffic shaping is necessary and effective. Like the majority of readers of this site I'm sure you are smart enough to know by now that the "headline speed" is a maximum in suitable network conditions, not a minimum or even an average to which you are entitled, and that you should take that into consideration when deciding whether a particular supplier is offering good value for money.

I'm actually very happy with Virgin broadband, it has never let me down. (Unlike their TV service, which is rapidly heading down the pan - but that's a different story altogether innit.)

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