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Comcast Traffic Monitoring a Slap in the Face to Net Neutrality
From Wired, October 23, 2007
As we’ve mentioned before, Comcast does, despite what the company says, limit BitTorrent traffic. The Associated Press recently ran some tests and discovered that, yes, Comcast does throttle BitTorrent traffic. So how can Comcast say it doesn’t throttle traffic when in fact it does? The answer is in semantics.
Comcast has previous told Wired News that “we do not block access to any applications,” it does however admit that it uses traffic shaping tools to “manage our network to provide a quality experience for all Comcast subscribers.” In other words, Comcast doesn’t block BitTorrent applications, but it does block BitTorrent traffic.
Now it would seem that the fun doesn’t end there for Comcast subscribers. The EFF reports that Comcast also limits Gnutella traffic and Kevin Kanarski claims that Lotus Notes traffic is similarly choked.
In all three cases Comcast’s limiting technique is quite insidious and would be difficult for the average user to notice. Comcast’s network monitoring tools (most likely Sandvine) sits between your connection and the outside world and sends reset packets to both both ends, disrupting your connection. From the the end user point of view it will merely look like your connection is slow. Very, very slow.
This is more or less the two-tiered internet that net neutrality proponents have long warned about. As the EFF writes:
If this type of conduct is allowed to continue, many innovators will have to get active assistance from an ISP in order to have their protocols allowed through the ISP’s web of spoofing and forgery. Technologies like BitTorrent and Joost, which are used to distribute licensed movies and are in direct competition with Comcast’s cable TV services, will be at Comcast’s mercy.
Until U.S. lawmakers wake up and realize that the two-tiered internet is already here, there are a few things you can do to outwit such traffic shaping policies. TorrentFreak has some suggestions on what you can do to avoid the Comcast roadblocks.
If you don’t agree with Comcast’s policies, you can always switch to an ISP that doesn’t use traffic shaping tools. However, in some markets Comcast is your only option, so for those of you stuck with Comcastic connections, here’s what you can do:
* Force protocol header encryption. See our Wiki entry for more details, but keep in mind that just enabling encryption isn’t enough, you’ll have to force it.
* Run BitTorrent over an encrypted tunnels like SSH or VPN. SSH is going to very practical in the long run, VPN is a better bet. We’ve got instructions that can be adapted to this scenario in the Wiki.
* Lower your download rate. Comcast’s traffic shaping won’t let you seed torrents unless you’re downloading them as well. Once the torrent completes, your upload will be choked off. If you’re using private trackers that force you to maintain a high ratio, make sure you’ve uploaded the whole file before you finish downloading it.
Our personal favorite idea, though we don’t recommend you actually do it, is to follow in the footsteps of Mona “The Hammer” Shaw, who, fed up with what she calls “a bunch of sub-moronic imbeciles” grabbed a hammer and paid a visit to her local Comcast office for a little keyboard smashing satisfaction. Unfortunately, like Mrs. Shaw, this will probably land you in jail and, from what we understand, internet access in prison is monitored slightly more than Comcast’s network.
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