Comcast is secretly managing Internet traffic, according to an investigative report by Associated Press. Comcast is blocking BitTorrent transfers, regardless of whether the items are legal or not. The net neutrality controversy just got more interesting.
Digital Journal — Comcast actively blocks high-speed traffic from some of its users, the Associated Press discovered, and this “data discrimination” involves company computers pretending to be those of Comcast subscribers. In peer-to-peer technology, where people share files with other users, Comcast is targeting services like BitTorrent, widely used to download movies and TV shows.
The AP ran several tests and found how Comcast’s technology works. Its investigative article explained
Each PC gets a message invisible to the user that looks like it comes from the other computer, telling it to stop communicating. But neither message originated from the other computer — it comes from Comcast. If it were a telephone conversation, it would be like the operator breaking into the conversation, telling each talker in the voice of the other: ‘Sorry, I have to hang up. Good bye.’
The issue might not be so dire if Comcast only blocked content that infringed on copyright. But the service provider can’t distinguish between what’s illegal or legal; the AP reporters tried to download a copy of the King James Bible — in the public domain — but in two out of three tests, the downloads were blocked completely.
While this kind of “traffic shaping” has been bandied about in the media before, the AP regards Comcast’s plan as a different beast altogether:
Comcast's approach to traffic shaping is different because of the drastic effect it has on one type of traffic — in some cases blocking it rather than slowing it down — and the method used, which is difficult to circumvent and involves the company falsifying network traffic.
Emerging from this controversy is the debate over net neutrality, a debate that exploded when AT&T suggested Web companies will supposedly pay more for preferential treatment of its traffic. Google and Amazon objected immediately, claiming all Web traffic should be treated equally. But Comcast’s P2P blocking is not just stemming the tide of illegal downloads; it’s setting a dangerous precedent that other powerful ISPs may foolishly follow. When a provider blocks or impairs a consumer’s right to see content on the Web, the entire idea of a free Internet begins to crumble.
If Comcast expands its range of filters, Web TV services like Joost
could be affected, and Internet telephony like Skype could face unnecessary delays. Also, if Comcast gets away with this Net naughtiness, who would be accountable down the road? The net neutrality supporters just got another arrow in their quiver, and they would be smart to take advantage of this bad press Comcast is trying to evade.