Wired, Jan 2009: Comcast’s Dark Lord Tries to Fix Image

by on May.11, 2011, under Uncategorized

(Original at Wired)

[. . .]

It took him six weeks of short-burst sleuthing to reach his conclusion. In a detailed post on DSL Reports — a site for broadband enthusiasts — under his online name, funchords, [Robb] Topolski laid out a case against his Internet service provider. Comcast appeared to be blocking file-sharing applications by creating fake data packets that interfered with trading sessions. The packets were cleverly disguised to look as if they were coming from the user, not the ISP. It was as if, in the middle of a phone call to a friend, Comcast got on the line and in the caller’s own voice told the friend he was hanging up, while the caller simultaneously heard the same message in the friend’s voice.

[. . .]

By the end of 2007, 22 cents of every dollar spent on broadband in the US went directly to Comcast. And that figure looks like it’s only going to increase; the number of ways to connect to the Internet reliably and at high speed is shrinking, not growing. “There’s this magical thinking, both in the tech community and the regulatory community, that competition will solve all problems,” says Craig Moffett, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “Well, get over it. The evidence says we’re not going from two pipes to three but from two pipes to one.”

[. . .]

[Brian] Roberts truly believed Comcast was ready for tech stardom as the Facebook or Google of 2008. Instead, he got Topolskied. On October 19, 2007, the AP story broke with the headline “Comcast Actively Hinders Subscribers’ File-Sharing Traffic, AP Testing Shows.” Bloggers called for protests and boycotts; the Electronic Frontier Foundation said Comcast was using tricks formerly used by “malicious hackers.” A coalition of Internet law scholars and consumer groups petitioned the FCC to step in. Instead of basking in glory, Roberts found himself at the center of the fight over network neutrality—the attempt to keep ISPs from discriminating between different kinds of traffic and, say, favoring their own video or VoIP services over another company’s.

[. . .]

The Topolski affair, as far as Roberts is concerned, is all based on a misunderstanding. Every company “manages” its network by restricting and opening access to maintain speeds. [. . .] “You’ve always had Ma Bell managing its network for things like how you handle voice traffic on Mother’s Day. You get a busy signal occasionally.”

[. . .]

In August, the FCC issued a 67-page report that read as if Comcast was the worst company the FCC had ever regulated. Comcast lied about its actions, schemed to prevent oversight, confused customers, and put the future of Net-based innovation at risk. The commissioners doubted Comcast’s contention that blocking BitTorrent helped its network. [. . .] The final verdict was devastating: “In laymen’s terms, Comcast opens its customers’ mail because it wants to deliver mail not based on the address or type of stamp on the envelope but on the type of letter contained therein,” the FCC wrote. “This practice is not ‘minimally intrusive’ but invasive and outright discriminatory.”

The FCC didn’t levy a fine. In fact, it’s still not even clear whether the commission has the regulatory right to punish such behavior.

[. . .]

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