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Comcast Sued Over P2P Blocking 268

CRISTAROL writes "Comcast has been sued by a California resident for blocking BitTorrent and other traffic. 'John Hart describes himself as a Comcast customer who has seen performance hits when using "Blocked Applications" targeted by Comcast's traffic management application, Sandvine. In his complaint, Hart says that Comcast severely limits "the speed of certain internet applications such as peer-to-peer file sharing and lotus notes [sic]." Comcast accomplishes this by "transmitting unauthorized hidden messages" to the PCs of those using the applications.' The lawsuit comes on the heels of an FCC complaint over the same issue."
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Comcast Sued Over P2P Blocking

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  • About time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by proudfoot ( 1096177 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @11:39PM (#21359083)
    Maybe comcast will start delivering what people paid for.
  • by compumike ( 454538 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @11:42PM (#21359115) Homepage
    The real problem here isn't just that Comcast is doing the filtering. Who knows -- maybe it's really OK under their EULA and the law (which I doubt). But the most painful part of the problem to consumers is that the Comcast government-granted monopoly on the cable lines means that lots of consumers have no other alternative.

    I think the antitrust laws might have something to say here, although it's a bit of a stretch. In any case, how can we codify the fact that providers with effective monopoly status should have an additional burden of service to their customers? I do wonder if this is bigger than limited net neutrality legislation.

    Educational microcontroller kits for a digital generation. []
  • by bishiraver ( 707931 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @11:53PM (#21359189) Homepage
    "maybe it's really OK under their EULA and the law (which I doubt)."

    You'd be correct in doubting it. IANAL, but:

    Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If the violation affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.
    It would seem to be that 1) Comcast has a scheme to make money (by having less in bandwidth costs), and 2) they fraudulently transmit interrupt signals to accomplish this.

    Really, they should be prosecuted in criminal court, not sued in civil court.
  • by Osty ( 16825 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:05AM (#21359271)

    Class Acion law suit? Would love to hop on that bandwagon if I could.

    So you can get a coupon for two free months of Comcast internet service while Comcast continues to block legitimate traffic? Class action lawsuits are worse than no lawsuit at all.

  • by pete6677 ( 681676 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:29AM (#21359441)
    It will be an open and shut case all right - in favor of Comcast. This guy has no legal claim upon which relief can be granted, which is the language the judge will use while throwing it out of court. You can't just sue someone because you're pissed off, you have to have some basis in law for the claim. As much as I hate Comcast, there's no law saying they can't filter stuff on their network.
  • by _merlin ( 160982 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:29AM (#21359447) Homepage Journal
    I don't think Comcast is throttling BitTorrent in the interest of stopping piracy - I think they're just throttling it because it's stressing their network too much. The don't care whether it's legitimate traffic or not, they just want to unclog their network a bit. As such, they're still a common carrier, because they're not discriminating based on the nature of the information being transmitted.
  • Re:About time (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:32AM (#21359469)

    Maybe comcast will start delivering what people paid for.
    I take it you didn't read the fine print.
  • by Dr. Donuts ( 232269 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:45AM (#21359561)
    Actually no, it's not that simple.

    If Comcast were simply prioritizing packets, that would be one thing. However, the contention is they are spoofing packets back to the clients. Think of it this way, you type in a web address and get back an error message saying the host wasn't available and that error was being generated *by the carrier*, and not the actual website. In that case, the carrier is impersonating the destination and returning false information.

    Comcast claims they are not doing this, although some critics have claimed they have irrefutable proof that they are in fact doing that.

    As always, the devil is in the details.
  • by trimCoder ( 954838 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @12:46AM (#21359575)
    Do the users of comcast have a limited amount of bandwidth usage per account and do these 'hidden' messages count towards this bandwidth usuage? I think these are important questions as it would result in the customer being charged for a service they did not receive.
  • by technos ( 73414 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:06AM (#21359731) Homepage Journal
    Throttling the network is fine to accomplish QoS goals.

    Comcast, however, is forging RST packets. They're taking the traffic and altering the content of it.

    No legitimate QoS solution does this. Delay the content, fine. Slow the transmission rate of the content, fine.

    Discard the traffic and generate a forged reply? Not fine.
  • by manly_15 ( 447559 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:06AM (#21359737)
    If I use my home phone in an abusive manner, I can lose my service. A simple example would be if I bought a home phone line and send out robo-calls advertising.

    Also, phone companies offer restricted numbers, unlisted numbers, and the like. It's possible to set up an account that only accepts calls from specific numbers. This doesn't interefer with their common carrier status. Presumably ISP's could work in exactly the same way.

    I am Canadian though, so things could be different south of the border.
  • by toadlife ( 301863 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:08AM (#21359743) Journal
    "The only alternative is DSL and we all know what thats like..."

    Stable? (No "slowdowns")
    Cap free?
    No restrictions on running server?

    Yeah I know. Who would want DSL. It's like have the real internet.
  • Re:Comcast (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:11AM (#21359759) Homepage Journal
    No, both are important.

    Your job as an officer or executive of a company is to maximize shareholder value while obeying the law and business ethics. All of these things are supposed to be done. It's in a company's best financial interests to take care of their customers because that's where revenue comes from. If your customers abandon you because of your shady dealings or you lose millions of dollars in a lawsuit or the government steps in to micromanage your business, then the shareholders are going to be quite upset.

  • Re:Pay to steal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Iam9376 ( 1096787 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:17AM (#21359811)
    Wow, are you bought and paid for? Looking at the homepage and sig.., Bill.. is that you?

    P2P != stealing in such a broad sense.

    Many companies these days use P2P such as bittorrent to distribute files, free games, Enemy Territory, True Combat Elite, et cetera can be had via bittorrent. No stealing, all legal. This is not even to mention to sharing of Linux and other free, public domain files that can be spread freely.

    Go crawl back into your perfect little hole.
  • Re:Pay to steal (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ironspork ( 916882 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:21AM (#21359839)
    So does that mean WOW using a P2P torrent setup for game updates is stealing? Under your definition, most legal activity under there is stealing. So that means using a legal service that I paid for is illegal? I'm really not following your logic here. Oh wait, maybe because there isn't any?
  • by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:24AM (#21359863)
    There is no reason a corporation could not be locked up. It is simply a matter of judges and juries being willing. They are certainly able.
  • Re:Slashdot... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Icarus1919 ( 802533 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:24AM (#21359865)
    Don't feed the trolls.
  • Re:Comcast (Score:2, Insightful)

    by woodrad ( 1091201 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:25AM (#21359881)
    While I appreciate the hyperbole, I think that the premise here is flawed. First, the word "fascist" is a word that has been so overused that the meaning is nearly the same as "bad". Second, shareholders obviously aren't making that much, and are not leeching thieves as your comment implies. Shareholders elect to put off their own consumption in exchange for, hopefully, more money in the future. Greed might be the motive, but the result is more of a quid pro quo than theft. Profit in itself is not an evil, but an incentive that can be a boon. If the service is so sub-par, then go to a competitor (most people have the option of DSL, cable, wireless, and satellite at the least). If there is no competitor, try putting off your own consumption and making some competition on your own, if the market does indeed have people who are not being served to their liking. Perhaps the price of the internet would go up even more if they did not implement cost-saving measures. In the end, the company and the customer have to front the bill of infrastructure upgrades. I think an argument that they are making money by nefarious means or by using monopoly power would have some grounding to it, but your comment does not seem to imply that.
  • Re:Pay to steal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jamar0303 ( 896820 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:35AM (#21359947)
    And Lotus Notes? That's blocked too- is that stealing?
  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:36AM (#21359951) Homepage
    You are going to find that this applies to the expectations of what the court considers to be "an ordinary person". This is a pretty common standard and it eliminates lots of fringe stuff.

    A while back Toyota ran an advertisement about how low their prices were and specifically used the phrase "for a song". Someone wrote a song, performed it in the dealership and asked for their car. Now please. I believe that guy actually got a car but the courts cut the rest of the claims off pretty quickly using the concept that an ordinary person would not be misled by this.

    Now try to convince a court that whatever Comcast is advertising that this extends to what you specifically want to use their service for and how they are preventing you from doing so. You are very likely to find out that your fringe case doesn't mean they have violated the law.
  • Tomorrow??? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:47AM (#21360015)
    Bittorrent today. Maybe VoIP tomorrow - unless you buy the special (higher priced) Comcast VoIP package.

    They want to know how much they can get away with. Stopping them now will be much better than fighting with them later!

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @01:56AM (#21360099) Homepage
    Phone companies can still stop telemarketers, phone threats, war dialers, fraudulent marketing, and other forms of phone abuse. They don't really want to, but they can. Especially if they are using obscene amounts of resources like spammers and DOSers do. I don't think being a common carrier would present a problem for this type of stuff. Worst-case it would require some laws to clarify (or some dumb spammer to actually sue an ISP).

    And BTW, judging from most Slashdot posters, everyone does want ISPs to be common carriers.
  • Re:Pay to steal (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mrbluze ( 1034940 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @02:50AM (#21360509) Journal

    I'm glad they modded you funny, 'cause I almost laughed myself off my chair reading your post. Seriously, do you think 'downloaders' are hoarding tonnes of cash that they would otherwise have spent on software? I mean, if they didn't pirate software, they would just not have the software. If they didn't pirate music, they'd just not have music. They wouldn't go out and buy it, no matter what you do. In most cases, my guess is these people just don't have the disposable income to pay for music and games over and above the hardware they bought.

  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @03:29AM (#21360733) Journal
    Actually, I don't want any rules outside a standard RFC implementation. I want nothing of mine blocked, filtered, scanned, or anything.

    I don't know how many times I had had an application break or a server stop responding properly because SBC or TimeWarner decided to block some port in an effort to slow some worm or virus. They then give you the run around when asking what happened to the port. Nobody knows and claims it must be something wrong with your equipment so you end up checking everything again to finally find out that they blocked something and it took a day or two for them to get the memo to the people that answer the damn phones. That or they incorrectly flag some traffic as malicious with their filtering software and "clean" it, resulting in a corrupt DBF file set or incomplete transactions.

    It would be a different story if they gave you the ability to opt out first but historically we haven't found out about anything until something is down for half a work day or corrupt or some other situation that causes a bunch of headaches. We pay for the internet, not some cut up representation of it. We should get everything we pay for.
  • by KookyMan ( 850095 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @06:14AM (#21361609)
    Ok, those in the know feel free to point out errors and omissions in this BUT:

    Wouldn't it be in Comcast's better interest to allow p2p on their own controlled network? As opposed to the apparent blanket "slowdown" that they've effected, it seems to me that it would make much more sense to only bottleneck at the routers that are at the fringe and connecting to other networks. It seem to me that every byte they can keep "in house" is significantly cheaper than the bytes that have to be passed off. And this applies to the entire speed limiting bit.

    Think of it like this. If Comcast subscribers can share amongst themselves the latest Fedora 8 distro between each other, with no speed restrictions, isn't it cheaper than having us all pulling that same multi-gig image across multiple networks?
  • Re:About time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mtmra70 ( 964928 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @09:15AM (#21362631)
    While I agree that it sucks they are blocking P2P apps, I will have to admit their service is pretty darn good. A few case examples:

    1) My cable went out at 12am. At 1am I dedcided to give their tech support a ring. I called the number, selected the broadband option, entered my phone number and within 30 seconds I was connected to an AMERICAN technician. I told him I thought our entire cable system went out. He logged into our local node and confirmed our entire area was out.

    This being a Saturday night I asked him if it would be fixed over the weekend. To my suprise he said it would be fixed in a couple hours after rolling a truck. Sure enough, I wake up at 8am and all was better.

    This is about the 6 call to Comcast and every call has been answered promptly by an American and handled in the upmost professional manner. The same cant be said for SBC/ATT 1st level phone support.

    2) I subscribe to their 8Mb/768Kb plan and consistantly receive 8Mb plus transfer rates. The Speedboost to 16Mb is AMAZING! I purchased TF2 over Steam and started the 7GB download. To my suprise I was receiving it at 1.5MB-2.0MB/sec and it was completed in 60min!!!! The same couldn't be said for ATT's DSL.

    Sadly, I may be moving soon and out of the Comcast area. At least AT&T's DSL is cheaper than what it used to be (and hopefully the same reliability).
  • by mpe ( 36238 ) on Thursday November 15, 2007 @09:31AM (#21362805)
    the veil of incorporation can be pierced at any time if it is believed that a member or members of the board have personally acted illegally.

    If this were not the case anyone planning a crime would incorporate...
  • Re:About time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Thursday November 15, 2007 @11:09AM (#21364141) Journal

    I take it you didn't read the fine print.

    Show me where in the fine print it says they have the right to perform a man-in-the-middle attack on my communications. In fact, it's even more ironic, because their AUP doubtless has the same clause that my ISPs AUP has: You will not forge any IP header or datagram to make it appear as though it came from someone else.

    There are any of number of solutions to the problem of p2p traffic they could have taken. Like traffic shaping, QoS prioritization, canceling the accounts of massive bandwidth users, etc, etc. They crossed the line when they started forging packets in an attempt to disrupt communications.

  • Re:About time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Danny Rathjens ( 8471 ) <slashdot2@rathje ... org minus distro> on Thursday November 15, 2007 @04:39PM (#21369743)
    This is unfortunately the future of marketing and PR. Corporate advertising people astroturfing with silly comments like this just subtle enough to avoid our filters.
    6 calls to support is not good service no matter how much you spin it and denigrate your competitors and use multiple exclamation points to convey fake excitement. (insightful? blech)

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein