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FCC Considers Taking Action Against Comcast 181

Posted by Zonk
from the considering-a-crack-down dept.
Presto Vivace writes "According to CNet the Federal Communications Commission is considering taking action against cable operator Comcast modifying peer-to-peer traffic, a subject we've discussed here in the past. 'It looks like Chairman Martin, and by extension the commission, sees Comcast as going beyond simply managing its network. But even if the FCC decides that Comcast has violated Net neutrality principles, it's unclear what the agency can actually do to Comcast. The principles are not agency regulation.'"
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FCC Considers Taking Action Against Comcast

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  • by PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:25AM (#22718112) Journal
    When big business (or advocacy groups) can abuse consumers and no one intervenes until there is a problem (even when it is illegal, or wrong), and there is NO punishment for doing so ... why would they conform?
    • The proper place for this is in the courts. If Comcast violates its customer contract, they should be sued. Believe me there are more than enough trial lawyers out there that will pay for this themselves on the hope of future earnings. Its their network and whether or not you and I believe net neutrality is moral, right, wrong, legal or illegal, they have the right to control, patrol, fuck with, etc, their own network to the extent that they don't violate their contracts or the law. There are no net neut

      • Regarding the FCC... The FCC has no authority in this domain

        Yeah, I'd suppose that the FTC would be more appropriate. That said, this is a perfect place for the feds to stomp on Comcast. I know, contracts are holy writ, but sometimes it makes more sense just to pass a law.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        The fact that they can say, "Its our network, we'll screw whoever we please when we please", *is* the problem. If we allowed roads to all be privately owned, we'd likewise be screwed. We need to nationalize the "tubes" ( ;-) hehehe ) and lease bandwidth back to any- and everybody who wants to be an ISP. Can you imagine if the telephone companies decided that too many people were dialing 800 numbers? If they started hanging up 1/2 of the 800 calls, people wouldn't be saying, "Well, they own the phone sys
        • by sysopd (617656)

          We need to nationalize the "tubes" ( ;-) hehehe ) and lease bandwidth back to any- and everybody who wants to be an ISP.

          You do realize what happened when we nationalized the broadcast radio spectrum? Freedom was lost in the process. Now the FCC regulates what can and cannot be said on the radio.

          Nationalizing the internet would be the worst idea for keeping the internet free (as in speech) and in the process would also end up making it less free (as in beer). Right now you have thousands of companies pro

          • by Mr2001 (90979)

            Right now you have thousands of companies providing access. If you have a problem with one (such as Comcast) you can choose an alternative, or pressure/advocate the company into changing. With so many alterntives its likely there's a choice out there for you.

            No, that's exactly the problem: there aren't thousands of companies providing access. In huge parts of the country, the only alternatives to cable are dialup and satellite (in other words, jack and shit).

            If the system was nationalized, and you didn't like something they were doing you have no choice, no alternatives. You can still try advocacy except you now have a much smaller voice than you did before.

            Smaller... or larger? It seems to me that my opinion is more likely to matter to my elected representatives than it is to the suits at Comcast.

            The suits at Comcast know that they're going to have customers no matter what, because if you don't have cable then you're stuck with rabbit ears and dialup (unles

      • by Danse (1026)

        There are no net neutrality laws AFAIK, and I personally think giving the government ANY regulation powers or control of the internet is a horrible idea.

        Too late. It's government regulation that brought us these monopolies to begin with. They created the monster, it's their duty to reign it in if it tries to run amok.

        If Comcast continues to limit availability of certain protocols then competing ISPs and community sponsored networks will fill the void.

        Yeah, that hasn't been going so well. Competing ISPs often don't exist, or if they do, they're phone companies who are also local monopolies that do whatever they feel like with their network.

        What we really need is municipal ownership of the infrastructure, which would allow for any number of ISPs to offer services to the customers and cre

        • by sysopd (617656)

          What we really need is municipal ownership of the infrastructure, which would allow for any number of ISPs to offer services to the customers and create true competition in that market. Right now, due to the mounds of regulations that have accumulated over the years, we have companies that have no incentive to compete or improve their networks beyond the basics. Others are shut out of the infrastructure and we have no innovation or real choice in the market.

          Out here in the pacific northwest there is a lot

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:29AM (#22718162)
    Answering the question "what can the FCC do": I would assume that they could take their license away, as the final threat.

    I don't think the Comcast situation has much to do with net neutrality. Lack of "net neutrality" would mean that a service provider slows down some traffic and not other traffic. So your bittorrent might take 12 hours instead of 1, but work without problems. But that is not what Comcast does: They actively manipulate the traffic that goes through their system, sending fake abort messages to bittorrent clients. That, I think, could be very much in violation of whatever license they need.

    If I sent you a letter and it arrived in five days instead of one day, I would complain. If the post office deliberately threw away my letters, I would complain a lot louder.
    • by qortra (591818) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:38AM (#22718310)

      sending fake abort messages to bittorrent clients.

      If the post office deliberately threw away my letters, I would complain a lot louder.
      Given your description of what is going on, your metaphor is not apt. A better one:

      The post office deliberately sends a soldier fake dear john letters [wikipedia.org], merely because they believe that soldier's girlfriend to be unscrupulous, or because they have grown tired of mailing that soldier's letters to his girlfriend.

      Other than that minor point, I agree entirely.
      • by snowraver1 (1052510) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:09PM (#22718800)
        Nope, try this example:

        Comcast is like a car, er wait, truck, no... HUMMER and you are behind them in traffic, but you drive a Pinto. All you can smell is the diesel exaust from the Hummer. Then the driver of the hummer gets out and kicks you in the face, but there is a dear john letter stuck to his boot, that is now stuck to your face. You can't see where you are going, so you go home, but when you get there your cat is hanging from the celing with a puddle of water on the ground. There is no evidence of struggle, so obvously your cat committed suicide by standing on a large block of ice and slowly hanging itself. You look at your cable modem and the "sync" light is slowly blinking... no internet. Damn! screwed by Comcast again!
        • At night, the ice weasels come.
        • by funaho (42567)
          Man you need to lay off the 'shrooms. ;-)
        • If you are in a Pinto, and Comcast is in a Hummer, do the rest of the world a favor, cut him off in traffic and force him to rear end you. You will both die in the resulting explosion but everyone will sing praises of your sacrifice to take out one more evil (local) monopolist.

          For the ever present "young people" on slashdot you can read about the pinto's reputation here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Pinto [wikipedia.org]
        • I believe you forgot

          I just the other day got, a traffic was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the roads commercially.
    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:56AM (#22718600) Homepage
      I would think that a really effective threat would be to take away their "common carrier" status and make Comcast legally responsible for all the traffic going through their network. For instance, since they actively manipulate their traffic, it can be argued they could stop all child pornography, copyrighted material, etc from traversing their network, and since they failed to do so they are liable for its distribution.
      • by qortra (591818)
        That seems like a terrible idea. Honestly, they might just like that scenario. It would give them an excuse to turn their service into an AOL-like "portal" where you get Comcast news, Comcast voip, Comcast search, and if they're really in a bad mood, one single Comcast political candidate. Portals have become passé, but they really are a crap-ton more profitable. Imagine not only getting ISP monthly fees, but also all the ad revenue from a subscribers account, email bounties (selling your address d
        • by dkleinsc (563838)
          If they do that, they can't truthfully advertise themselves as an "Internet Service Provider", which should put a nice big dent in their business and possibly throw a wrench into their monopoly deals in the markets where people can't easily switch to DSL or other broadband providers. Plus the portal thing isn't as profitable as it might look: Just ask AOL. The Internet tends to view attempts to filter content as damage and routes around it, as the old saying goes.

          And I don't buy that your ISP completely con
      • by compro01 (777531) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:54PM (#22719466)
        cable companies have never been common carriers as far as internet service goes. DSL providers used to be, but aren't anymore.

        what would be the proper course of action would be to remove their DMCA safe harbour status, which would render them liable for any copyrighted material moving through them [that occurs without the right holder's permission].
    • by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:59AM (#22718642)
      Taking their license away would potentially hurt the customers even more. The solution is much simpler - money. Fine them, and keep raising the fines until it becomes more cost effective for Comcast to behave. Money is a fantastic motivator.

      I don't know if the FCC has the authority and/or the will to take such an action, however.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Phisbut (761268)

        Taking their license away would potentially hurt the customers even more. The solution is much simpler - money. Fine them, and keep raising the fines until it becomes more cost effective for Comcast to behave. Money is a fantastic motivator.

        Won't Comcast then just increase the price of their service to cover the fines? Their customers can't change ISP to get a better now because they lack choice, they won't be able to change ISP to get a lower price then either.

        • Unless the fines are severe enough to put them out of business. Whoever takes over would be unlikely to make the same mistake. Would suck to be a Comcast customer, sure, but like, hey...it *sucks* to be a cCmcast customer.
      • Taking their license away would potentially hurt the customers even more. The solution is much simpler - money. Fine them, and keep raising the fines until it becomes more cost effective for Comcast to behave.

        Which Comcast will turn around and pass on to their customers. Either way, Comcast customers are pretty much screwed. Comcast knows this and so does the FCC.

        • assets to somebody else would take care of that problem.

          There would be NO ComCast bills passing on the cost because there would be NO MORE ComCast.

          It is perfectly ethical to TERMINATE ComCast when they do something illegal.
          (They're NOT a living being. You can't kill them. But you can dissolve them.)

          Imagine how delighted one of their current competitors would be at picking up their assets and their customers at fire sale prices.
          • by afidel (530433)
            Better would be to auction off a bunch of spectrum and block all current last mile providers from participating and banning them from acquiring the company that wins the auction. Imagine having a fully independent third provider for last mile service, I do and my bill is significantly lower because of it (in my case it's an overlay cable provider but a national player would be nice). Simply selling their assets to a current "competitor" does nothing to help the consumer/citizen, it only fattens the wallet o
            • by crovira (10242)
              As much as I would love the alternative you suggest, I'll settle for vengeance from the dissolution of ComCast and sale of their assets.

              Yes it fattens the wallets of the acquirerer, but at least its not at our expense.
    • Can the FCC fine Comcast? I look forward to them passing down the losses to me. :(
    • Are you suggesting that the government should be allowed to punish people (or businesses) because what they did was "wrong" even though its not against any rule? Or are saying there is actually some rule against this, and you are simply not referencing it?

      Don't get me wrong, I think Comcast needs to stop, and if they violated any actual regulations I hope they are punished for it, but if they didn't actually break any rules then what that means is not that they should be punished anyway, but that the rules
      • Or are saying there is actually some rule against this, and you are simply not referencing it?

        Bingo. From section 512(a) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:

        A service provider shall not be liable for monetary relief, or except as provided in subsection (i) for injunctive or other equitable relief, for infringement for the provider's transmitting, routing, or providing connections for, material through a system or network controlled or operated by or for the service provider, or the intermediate and tran

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I've posted about this before, but whenever we run a Bit Torrent client for the better half of a day, our route to the internet gets lost. Everything still says we're connected and says the status is fine, we just can't get anywhere until we power-cycle the cable modem.

      Additionally I am a Vonage customer, and would be unable to place a 911 call because of this. It's just plain irresponsible corporate greed, seems to me.

      This happens even when Bit Torrent traffic is at a minimum. It's like Comcast is takin
      • by nuzak (959558)
        I've posted about this before, but whenever we run a Bit Torrent client for the better half of a day, our route to the internet gets lost. Everything still says we're connected and says the status is fine, we just can't get anywhere until we power-cycle the cable modem.

        This is quite likely not Comcast's fault. P2P clients open lots of connections, and this often overflows various tables in home routers and crashes them.
  • Verizon (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:29AM (#22718168)
    I guess the check cleared.
  • by RingDev (879105) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:30AM (#22718188) Homepage Journal
    While I am hopeful that the FCC does act, I have about 0 faith in Kevin Martin.

    Kevin Martin was an aide to Bush/Cheney in the 2000 election, he worked the Florida recount, he was coat tailed in as an aide in the transition from Clinton, was appointed to an advisory position once Bush took office, his wife was given a job as one of Cheney's aides, and since late 2007 he has been under investigation by Congress for abuse of power, and working to reduce the effective power of the FCC.

    -Rick
  • Comcast is safe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OglinTatas (710589) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:35AM (#22718276)
    As long as they don't flash a nipple on TV, the FCC won't do anything. It's like Ed Meese or John Ashcroft work there.
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:42AM (#22718382)
    Excerpt from ruling......

    Bad Comcast, Bad Comcast, Bad.

    We're sorry we had to be so harsh.
    • by Zak3056 (69287)

      Bad Comcast, Bad Comcast, Bad.

      If you think the FCC will go that easy on Comcast, you're mistaken. It will be "Bad Comcast! Bad Comcast! Bad!" The exclamation points are critical. :)

  • by gelfling (6534) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:46AM (#22718442) Homepage Journal
    The prior FCC's head. He said once, to the news, and I quote "I literally have no idea what the public interest is." unquote.

    That pretty much sums up the FCC. So don't hold your breath, the FCC is there to mouth words that the the religious right wants to hear and to support the oligopolies that keep American telcom mired 10-15 years in the past.
    • by langelgjm (860756)

      Well, since Kevin Martin has said "The public interest is not what any company wants," [arstechnica.com] maybe FCC heads are getting progressively closer to the truth :-)

      Maybe the next chairman of the FCC can learn from these two, and say something just as eloquent, like "The public interest is what the public wants... but I don't know what the public wants."

  • I am a comcast customer (fortunately or unfortunately, take your pick). On the island where I live they are the only broadband internet provider. I haven't had any problems with speed or connectivity when using torrents and I will admit that while I do leave several legal torrents open at night and on the weekends there are those that are not so legal from time to time. I routinely can grab a CD's worth of data in an hour or two without any problems. Last night before going to bed I queued up over 4 GB
    • Setup (Score:3, Funny)

      by iknownuttin (1099999)
      I haven't had any problems with speed or connectivity when using torrents and I will admit that while I do leave several legal torrents open at night and on the weekends there are those that are not so legal from time to time. ..

      I haven't experienced any of this slow down or even ask other comments have suggested the "end packets" or whatever that mess up my downloads.

      Duduuuude! The FBI is setting you up! Get out!!! Now!

    • by dwillden (521345) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:26PM (#22719068) Homepage
      Look at your upload speeds during and after the D/l has finished. If you have any desire to not be a leech, you should be trying to maintain at least a 1:1 ul/dl ratio. Comcast lets the dl go fine and allows normal uploading while you are actively dl'ing your file, but as soon as your machine finished dl'ing the file the forged resets start going out to both your machine and any machines trying to dl packets from you thus breaking the connection and prventing you from effectively seeding. This makes it very difficult to upload sufficiently to maintain a proper ratio.

      Many torrent sites require a balanced ratio or close to it to be able to participate on their trackers, Comcast makes it difficult (though not impossible) to maintain such a ratio.
    • My ability to down/up-load torrents has increased quite a bit since a little while before the FCC hearings, I also find that using Miro or Vuse runs better than using Pirate Bay as a tracker does. Comcast is much more careful to only sabotage bittorrent transfers during peak hours rather than around the clock like they did before. My last big one was 9.8 GB and it took 2 weeks off and on.
    • More than likely Comcast didn't oversell in your area, so there is tons of bandwidth for few customers. They only tend to get pissy when a small percentage of their customers are using an inordinate amount of bandwidth. You probably haven't hit that limit yet. Either that or they are getting scared of the FCC already.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jc42 (318812)
      I haven't experienced any of this slow down or even ask other comments have suggested the "end packets" or whatever that mess up my downloads. Perhaps it happens to be the fact that I live in a smaller metropolitan area that the rest of the /.'ers?

      Perhaps. But more likely it's just that you're not living in one of their test areas. You see, they knew quite well that their packet-forging "traffic management" technique would be controversial, and probably illegal. Before they extend it to the rest of the n
  • by freedom_india (780002) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:47AM (#22718452) Homepage Journal
    FCC will issue a written warning to comcast to stop such practices, slap a $500 fine and close the file.
    Comcast will continue to stop Bit Torrent until it can find a way to make money off it.
    FCC's Martin will resign in Jan 2009 and join Comcast.
  • Impersonating me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by paulproteus (112149) <[slashdot] [at] [asheesh.org]> on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:48AM (#22718470) Homepage
    The way Comcast's system works is, when Alice communicates with Bob, sending forged packets that impersonate Alice saying, "Bob, never mind - cancel the connection."

    If I'm Alice, the Comcast customer, I would find it fraudulent to see a company sending forged packages as me. Why should it be hard to punish Comcast for impersonating me and disrupting my communication with someone else?

    If Comcast is allowed to send forged IP messages, are they also allowed to forge emails from me that disrupt my communication with those people?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by filekutter (617285)
      I may be redundant or incorrect here, but isn't the interception and reconfiguring of packets by another "entity" illegal? Hasn't this been one of the methods used by Federal agencies to prosecute those involved in system intrusion? I seem to remember the EFF attempting to use this in court filings to attempt to stop Comcast's practices but could be mistaken.
      • Yes. Technically what they are doing is a "man in the middle" attack. Even more they are looking inside the packets to decide what to do to them. That is a big no-no. If they want to start inspecting packets, they had better be ready to accept all responsibilities for what is inside them. Otherwise stay net neutral and don't look.
  • The remedy against Comcast for this is to say that because you're not getting the service you paid for, that the price you've paid needs to be reduced to the level of the service you're actually receiving.

    I'd say that a 70% reduction in broadband rates -- retroactive -- is very much within the ballpark for this.

  • New Speak (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:08PM (#22718786)

    Comcast has argued that it doesn't block P2P traffic. Instead, it says it simply slows down packets so that it can better manage its network.

    That's like the phone company saying that you talk too much, and in order to slow down your talking they will suddenly and without warning hang up both telephones on the two ends of the conversation for you. Since you have a Redial button, this should only be a minor inconvenience for you at most.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      That's like the phone company saying that you talk too much, and in order to slow down your talking they will suddenly and without warning hang up both telephones on the two ends of the conversation for you. Since you have a Redial button, this should only be a minor inconvenience for you at most.

      that is unless Concast terminated your account. Then you are without service for 12 months.

      Yeah I thought it was a joke until January 19, 2007 [youtube.com]

      then I learned how sick this company really is.

      Another reason I submitt
  • Wait.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by crhylove (205956) <rhy@leperkhanz.com> on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:11PM (#22718828) Homepage Journal
    The FCC is actually going to do something by, for, or of the people? I think every rational constitutionalist in the country just had a collective heart attack. Aren't these the same guys that effectively gave every radio station and television network to these five corporations:

    AOL/Time Warner
    Viacom
    News Corp
    Bertellsman
    Disney

    ?

    I'll believe it when I see it. Until then I have my rifle loaded and my FM transmitter on high.
    • by Shakrai (717556) *

      Until then I have my rifle loaded and my FM transmitter on high.

      Good. That'll make it easier for us to take you out with this bad boy [wikipedia.org] ;)

      Move along citizen, nothing to see here....

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:16PM (#22718918) Homepage Journal
    Comcast's business model largely depends on making deals with local governments to get a monopoly. Deliberately making their service unreliable, could be viewed as some sort of acting-in-bad-faith breach of contract.
  • Guess Comca$t will just put the FCC on the $1,000,000 cable plan.
  • Unfortunately, I'm sure it's nothing that a big canvas bag with a money sign on it can't fix.
  • While throttling bandwidth is important I think the government should expand their investigations to include general business practices. And they should include all service providers including cable, satellite, mobile phones, etc. Start by investigating pricing structure.

    What justification do these companies have to raise rates every year? Why have mobile phone companies raised text messaging rates to 20 cents per message when it probably costs them a fraction of a cent to transmit them? We pay more for our
    • by compro01 (777531)
      Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I would think all the stuff you are wanting investigated would fall under the purview of the FTC rather than the FCC.
      • by MaWeiTao (908546)
        I'm not saying it should be the FCC investigating them, I'm just saying they should be investigated.
  • Comcast didn't just "shape" the traffic, they actually sent spoof packets to cause P2P applications to drop connections. That is a Denial of Service attack and violates federal law.

    For a full analysis see my blog post [blogspot.com] for more details.

  • I haven't paid much attention to this as I don't use BitTorrent that much to download to my house, where I have Comcast. I typically download to my colocated box with BitTorrent, and then download via FTP to home once it completes.

    However, a thought occurred to me, as a work-around until this issue is "fixed." The problem, from what I've read, is that Comcast is sending spoofed TCP RST packets. I'm assuming this causes the peers to tear down, or at a minimum have to re-establish a TCP session.

    How much ov

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