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Comcast Finally Files Suit Against FCC Over Traffic Shaping 353

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the hoping-for-mutual-destruction dept.
Following up on their threat last year to sue the FCC over sanctions imposed, Comcast has finally filed suit, stating that there are no statutes or regulations that support the FCC's authority to stop traffic shaping procedures. "First, let's recap: After months of proceedings, hearings, and investigations, the FCC concluded on August 1, 2008 that Comcast was discriminating against certain P2P applications using deep packet inspection techniques. These methods thwarted the ability of users to share video and other files via BitTorrent. 'Comcast was delaying subscribers' downloads and blocking their uploads,' declared then FCC Chair Kevin Martin. 'It was doing so 24/7, regardless of the amount of congestion on the network or how small the file might be. Even worse, Comcast was hiding that fact by making [affected] users think there was a problem with their Internet connection or the application.'"
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Comcast Finally Files Suit Against FCC Over Traffic Shaping

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  • Re:Republicans (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GigaHurtsMyRobot (1143329) on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:21PM (#29097055) Journal
    Why are you directing this at Republicans when Democrats have a veto and filibuster proof control of the entire government?
  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:26PM (#29097109) Homepage
    Comcast could be free to throttle. Except that the initial cost of building the "Comcast owned" networks was paid for by tax payers. Also, because they acted dubiously, and pretended that it wasn't them that was throttling, but instead some connection problem, or other problem with the application. Throttling is ok, provided you have a choice of choosing another provider (internet providers usually have a monopoly, or at best, duopoly, in most areas) and that they make it completely clear to the customer what they are throttling. Throttling all instances of a specific type of traffic, even when there is no congestion going on, is really not what anybody wants.
  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:27PM (#29097119) Journal

    Do you need any more proof that the government needs strong regulative powers?

    This is stupid one-sided political trolling. Why don't you take your partisan blinders off and ask yourself who it was that supported telecommunications deregulation back in the 90s? My memory is a little hazy but I'm pretty sure he was a Democrat who had a fondness for cigars and centrist (some would say "corporatist") domestic policy.

    One could also make the counter-argument -- that it's the very involvement of government that gives Comcast their monopoly in the first place. Ever ask yourself why you can't just find some investors and start up a cable company to compete with them?

  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CannonballHead (842625) on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:27PM (#29097121)
    Because it is always the other party's fault, no matter what the problem is, when it started, or who started it.
  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:29PM (#29097147) Homepage Journal

    Why was that modded down? I don't see how either party is involved, except that Bush appointed the FCC Chairman who shot down Comcast. If anything, wouldn't that be one of the (possibly few) good that he did?

  • Dear Comcast, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:29PM (#29097153)

    Dear Comcast:

    FUCK YOU.

      - a former customer

  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:32PM (#29097195) Journal

    I think he was trying to give an example of why gov regs are good. ;x

    No, he was trying to pander to the left-leaning partisan audience with mod points. Why else would he aim his comment at Republicans? Are all Republicans opposed to all forms of regulation? Are all non-Republicans automatically in favor of them?

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:38PM (#29097267)

    IMHO, we really need to start talking about taking away cable and in some places fiber monopolies.

    The Economist, a pro-free-market newsmagazine, proposed [economist.com] something like that recently:

    With broadband networks, the role of the state has less to do with limiting handouts than increasing choice. Fibre-optic networks can be run like any other public infrastructure: government, municipalities or utilities lay the cables and let private firms compete to offer services, just as public roadways are used by private logistics firms. In Stockholm, a pioneer of this system, it takes 30 minutes to change your broadband provider.

    Unfortunately, I doubt there are very good prospects for this: the business model of the telecom firms depends inherently on rent-seeking enabled by lack of competition.

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:40PM (#29097307)

    Except that isn't what comcast was caught doing. To use your freeway analogy, it's more like Comcast put up a big sign that said "Trucks use this exit" except instead of an exit, it was a cliff. Whenever they detected P2P traffic, they sent a reset packet to both sides of the connection, severing it completely before any significant amount of data could be sent.

  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:42PM (#29097347) Homepage Journal

    No, he was trying to pander to the left-leaning partisan audience with mod points.

    If he's a karma whore he's not very good at it; there are a LOT of Republicans here. I think what he was trying to point out was that the last administration was one that viewed the government as "always the problem", and face it, the Republicans deregulated, deregulated, and deregulated some more. Of course there were exceptions, but on the whole they're mostly for deregulation.

    Not all regulation is good, not all deregulation is bad; what you need is effective regulation.

  • by overshoot (39700) on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:42PM (#29097353)

    I'm sure if the FCC threatened to revoke their common carrier status, Comcast et al would pipe down quicker than you could blink an eye.

    That might be viable, except that Comcast has never had common-carrier status.

  • by desertfoxmb (1122201) on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:54PM (#29097487)
    The proper response to this news is not to push for regulation. It's Comcast's network they can do what they like with the data so long as what they are doing is part of the customer agreement the user signed up for. The proper response to this news is to push for anti-trust prosecution against Comcast, Time Warner, et al who are running monopolies in their markets and force competition. Whether that is in the form of forcing them to allow unrestricted usage of their network (for a fee of course) by competitors a la the power grid or some other form. It is not data shaping that is really the issue. It is lack of competitive choice for customers.
  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by causality (777677) on Monday August 17, 2009 @04:56PM (#29097527)

    Because it is always the other party's fault, no matter what the problem is, when it started, or who started it.

    If only each person who said "that other party is to blame" would instead say "the two-party duopoly is to blame" we might actually have real reform.

  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:04PM (#29097607)

    Why don't you take of your partisan blinders and look at how the free market treats consumers.

    The last 3 places I have lived at had only 1 cable company "choice".

    Why do you think that is?

    Because the government has encouraged there to be only one cable company in most areas. I don't know what the current laws are, but I remember when cable was being rolled out. Different cable companies would apply for the franchise to operate in a particular area (if it was an area that was lucrative enough that more than one was interested), then the local government would grant a monopoly to one of them. I remember some major scandals when it was discovered that some local officials were accepting what amounted to bribes to grant the local franchise to one company or another.
    So, to reiterate, the answer to your question as to why in most areas there is no competition among cable providers is that the government set it up that way.

  • by TheReaperD (937405) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:05PM (#29097623)

    'Unless you re-write the laws to make cable a "utility" you can't govern the way they provide service.'

    Actually, I believe the time has come to re-categorize internet providers as utilities. Most ISPs operate as either a monopoly or duopoly, have municipal districts and are considered to be an essential service for both business and home. All of these are common traits for a utility. It's time to start treating them as such.

  • by ichimunki (194887) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:06PM (#29097625)
    Why, if we both pay for the same service level, should your packets get priority just because your protocol wants less latency? That means that you get the service you paid for and I don't. If you want more of the pipe more of the time, then you should pay for the privilege.
  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GooberToo (74388) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:11PM (#29097693)

    Not to mention, the writing on the wall is, if they want the right to be non-regulated despite deep inspection on the data they carry, they clearly are responsible for the data which they carry. Seems they are begging to fall under telephone regulations; which they absolutely don't want. Either they are a transparent pipe or they are going to be held responsible for inspecting, routing, prioritization, and monitoring all traffic they carry. Seems they want to have their cake, eat it, and all the while rape your mother with no price to pay. Hopefully Congress will grant the power to the FCC to remind ISPs the privileges they've already been granted.

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:18PM (#29097777) Homepage Journal

    With the individual user's max bandwidth limited, there should be no need for this shaping, unless, of course, their network simply can't support what they are selling.

    There is no standard-issue ISP or backbone provider in the world that is not oversold. That's how they make money: by estimating the margins they need to maintain. If they oversell too much, their service will suck and customers will flee. If they don't oversell enough, they'll be paying much more per-customer for their capacity than their competitors and won't be able to stay in business.

    For example, suppose an ISP's historic utilization is 10% of their total customers' bandwidth if they were all to start downloading at once. If they buy enough bandwidth to support 5%, then downloads will take forever and everyone will hate it. If they go over 10%, though, they're throwing money down the drain. Suppose they paid for the full 100% of capacity. Customers won't faster speeds than if they bought 11%, because in either case they'd have enough to support actual demand.

    Oblig. car analogy: roads are built for average flow, not maximum possible demand. Otherwise you'd have an 8-lane freeway direct to your cul-de-sac. If your hometown overbuilds roads, then they've wasted tax money that could've been spent on other stuff (or not collected in the first place (that was hard to type with a straight face)).

    So all that is why we have traffic shaping. At 2AM when most people are asleep, you can slurp down all the torrented goodness that you can pull across your router. At 2PM, you can still get good speeds but with increased latency in exchange for better web browsing and quicker instant messaging. Traffic shaping seems like it would be bad, up until you're stuck using a connection that doesn't use it.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:20PM (#29097803)

    It's Comcast's hard earned money, they should be able to expand their monopoly as far as they can without government interference.

    You are absolutely correct, except for the fact that Comcast HAS a monopoly because of government interference.
    The answer to problems created by government regulation is not more regulation.

  • by Frequency Domain (601421) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:23PM (#29097835)

    One could also make the counter-argument -- that it's the very involvement of government that gives Comcast their monopoly in the first place. Ever ask yourself why you can't just find some investors and start up a cable company to compete with them?

    And the answer is found in Econ 101 - significant barriers to entry (massive infrastructure requirement) and the inefficiency of duplicating expensive infrastructure. It's the same reason that you don't find duplicate toll roads paralleling each other. This type of system naturally gravitates to a monopoly - whoever gets there first has a huge advantage over latecomers, and can drive them out of business by undercutting their prices, after which "hello monopoly pricing!"

    Partisan politics doesn't enter into it until you get one group of people who have as their religion "free market always bad" facing off against another group whose religion is "free market always good". The truth of the matter is that it varies from business to business, product to product. Adjust policy accordingly - if the system has high barriers to entry or increasing returns to scale, regulate it to level the playing field and/or protect consumers. If it has low barriers to entry and decreasing returns to scale, let competitors duke it out in the free market.

  • by pavon (30274) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:23PM (#29097839)

    Why, if we both pay for the same service level, should your packets get priority just because your protocol wants less latency? That means that you get the service you paid for and I don't.

    No it doesn't. If the network isn't saturated then giving his VoIP application higher QoS priority just means that some of your individual packets will be delayed by a few microseconds, but the total throughput will be almost identical. Furthermore, when the network is saturated, it is completely possible to give one application (like bittorrent) a higher throughput priority while another (like VoIP) a higher latency priority. Then his packets will only have a higher priority than yours if he is using less bandwidth than you are anyway.

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:26PM (#29097859) Homepage Journal

    Why, if we both pay for the same service level, should your packets get priority just because your protocol wants less latency?

    Because he's using latency-sensitive protocols and you're not. If you used them, the shaping would make your stuff more responsive, too.

    If you want more of the pipe more of the time, then you should pay for the privilege.

    Repeat after me: latency != bandwidth. You're both getting full use of the pipe. The only difference is that protocols that humans use are handled more quickly than protocols that computers use. If you send an IM, do you really want its packet queued up behind an emailed Powerpoint presentation of a dog peeing on something? If the email server takes an extra 1/1500th of a second to receive, no one will notice. If the IM client takes an extra 10 seconds to receive, you'll notice the heck out of it.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:33PM (#29097929) Homepage

    Oh and I forgot to address your car analogy... these are my favorites!

    When demand exceeds capacity, the roads are usually expanded to meet that capacity or additional roads are built to manage the capacity. What Comcast has been doing is not expanding the capacity of the road, but sending vehicles containing specific types of passengers on a detour that ends at the edge of a cliff violently killing them all.

  • by Galestar (1473827) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:49PM (#29098079)
    Since it is so completely incorrect and misleading. Comcast doesn't do traffic shaping. They send tcpip reset packets.
  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JorDan Clock (664877) <jordanclock@gmail.com> on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:50PM (#29098095)
    No, that's not fair. Most customers are unaware of these practices. Just because they let people opt-out when they get caught doesn't mean they're justified to any degree.
  • Re:Republicans (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:54PM (#29098133) Journal

    I've heard that theory put forth by libertarians many times, and it is as wrong now as it has been every other time. There are two very fundamental problems with that theory:

    • The damage that could be done by allowing anybody to spend a few bucks and dig up roads, driveways, and right-of-way areas that the city or homeowner has to pay to repair is nontrivial. The reason for these limits is that installing new cables is a very invasive process for residents. It's not about limiting competition. It's about limiting disruption.
    • Even if you completely opened it up to competition, very few communities would ever successfully have competition.

    That last one bears explaining. A few years ago, I watched a new cable company try to set up shop in a small university town of about 10,000 people. Here's what happened.

    The original cable company is an entrenched business. Regardless of monopoly status, it has been around for years and owns all its own lines. It has no debts because the lines are paid off already. Therefore, its only costs are buying the service from upstream, line maintenance (minimal), handing payments (most of which is done by mail sent to/from a regional office somewhere), and sending people out to connect/disconnect customers and swap out cable boxes. In short, it is largely a cash cow, and has huge profit margins built in.

    The new company has to put in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cable, equipment, etc. It now has a huge debt. It also has to compete with the existing cable company. It must either do so by providing more channels or undercutting them on price. Unfortunately, because of the construction debt, it must make a certain amount of profit just to stay in business.

    The result is that the new company undercuts the entrenched company and makes them angry. The entrenched company undercuts them far enough that they cannot compete and still pay off their construction debt. In spite of taking over a third of the entrenched company's business, after five years, the new company is still hemorrhaging money. Thus, it gives up, declares bankruptcy if needed, and sells all of the new equipment to the entrenched cable company. The entrenched cable company then raises rates to make up the money it lost while competing with the now defunct new company, all the while enjoying the lower maintenance costs of the new equipment that it bought for pennies on the dollar.

    And this, my friends, is what inevitably occurs when a business with such huge startup costs tries to compete in a fixed-size market. There is truly no way to prevent this except to take the startup costs out of the picture, either by the government giving a colossal grant to the cable company to cover its infrastructure costs or by the government building the infrastructure to begin with and leasing it out to multiple competitors.

    The only way telecom competition can work is if the infrastructure provider and the data provider are not the same company---if the infrastructure provider leases access to the data provider on a nondiscriminatory basis. The government is an ideal builder of infrastructure because it can afford to build it and run it at cost instead of making a profit. Therefore, the ideal form of telecom competition is one in which the government rolls out the fiber and leases fiber access to half a dozen telcos. Everywhere that has done this has seen incredible competition in the telecom space. Most communities that have not done this have little to no competition even if they are completely willing to allow multiple telcos or cable companies to do business in the area. At best, they have partial competition in which the government forces the incumbent telcos to lease access to the lines (e.g. DSL competition).

  • by zmollusc (763634) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:57PM (#29098179)

    It seems to me that if the ISP has the right to shape traffic/ force resets etc, the customer should have the right to shape payments.
    If I sign up for 'up to' 10 Mb broadband, I should be paying 'up to' £Amount per month with the actual amount paid decided by me based on my own criteria, just like the amount of bytes i get is decided by the ISP based on their criteria.
    Let the ISP ring MY 'customer support' (during hours I decide to provide it) to cry about how I have shaped their monetary stream down by 90% from what they signed up for.

  • Re:Republicans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El Torico (732160) on Monday August 17, 2009 @06:04PM (#29098243)

    Not all regulation is good, not all deregulation is bad; what you need is effective regulation.

    Actually, you need effective regulators. No more kickbacks [ohmygov.com], incompetence [risknews.net], and laziness [washingtonpost.com].

  • Precisely. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moryath (553296) on Monday August 17, 2009 @06:38PM (#29098557)

    What Comcast was doing is not, and never has been, "traffic shaping."

    What Comcast did was fraud, the equivalent of stealing the mail out of someone's mailbox or a Fedex/UPS employee walking off with your package.

  • by sjames (1099) on Monday August 17, 2009 @06:51PM (#29098679) Homepage

    If that was all they did, there would be little if any complaining. The problem was that they would just shoot down torrent connections and then denied that they did it.

  • by colinnwn (677715) on Monday August 17, 2009 @06:57PM (#29098723)

    At 2AM when most people are asleep, you can slurp down all the torrented goodness that you can pull across your router. At 2PM, you can still get good speeds but with increased latency in exchange for better web browsing and quicker instant messaging.

    I think that was the point, Comcast was shaping 24/7 when there was no need to. Also, I have no problem with traffic shaping at the protocol level (Voip over http), but I don't find it acceptable to do it on a service level (Comcast phone at home over Vonage).

    Traffic shaping is usually generically stated as a possibility in your contract (e.g. we may provide increased bandwidth to certain applications for best user experience). Instead they should spell it out (e.g. We will not oversubscribe our network beyond 10%. During times of network congestion greater than 70% of available bandwidth, we will prioritize in the following manner - Voip, http, unknown, email, ftp). Finally I think the providers should have a network status page so you can see the condition of their network and your link, and it shows you vaguely where the congestion is (your segment, their hub).

  • by copponex (13876) on Monday August 17, 2009 @07:41PM (#29099113) Homepage

    This is nonsensical.

    The solution to bad government regulation is effective government regulation. Countries all over the world have effectively run networks that are under the control of the people through democratic action, not subject to the skew of the profit desires of some private entity.

    There are some things that cannot operate in a totally free market, like banking, health care, and utilities. The reason is because modern societies require these things to operate, and they should not be left to the wild swings and herd mentality of the market. Nor should my ability to get health care be affected by someone else's incentive to deny me health care. Nor should a banker be allowed to repackage bad debt as good debt through collusion with another company and sell it to me. Nor should a private company be my only option for local utilities service.

    Let me put it like this: if there's a free, unregulated market for MP3 players, that's fine. Duke it out. Screw your customers. Worst case scenario, they have a broken MP3 player and they don't have the money anymore.

    If there's a free unregulated healthcare market, don't be surprised if you end up with corporations who don't care if children die of leukemia [msn.com] if they can get out of providing care on a technicality. They have no obligation to do the right thing, and their shareholders only know of a single value: profit. Worse case scenario: you are dead, or at least bankrupt for the rest of your life.

    Internet access probably falls somewhere in the middle.

  • Re:Republicans (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Monday August 17, 2009 @08:54PM (#29099691) Homepage Journal

    No, the duopoly IS at fault, here. Our founding fathers specifically warned AGAINST letting the democratic system devolve into a two-party system.

    Once it came down to Republicans and Democrats as the majority parties, America started going to shit. It's always white or black, no shades of grey.

  • by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @12:24AM (#29101253)

    their service will suck and customers will flee.

    Not if that's the only choice for broadband. In most places people do not have a choice whom thy get broadband from. They either get it from a monopoly or they don't get broadband.

    If they go over 10%, though, they're throwing money down the drain.

    You're missing a key word here, specifically an adjective. That adjective being "taxpayer", which modifies "money". Taxpayers gave cable and phone companies $200 Billion [newnetworks.com] in subsidies to build out broadband. But all these businesses did was pad their bottom lines, line their pockets.

    Either they deliver what they were paid for, or they return the money and get out of the way of those who will provide what they refuse to.

    Falcon

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