Comcast and the fight against Net Neutrality

The Comcast Corporation, faced with criticism of it's port-blocking practice, appears to have "packed" a public hearing conducted by the Federal Communications Commission at Boston. According to an advocacy group, Comcast paid "seat warmers" to take up all available spaces and exclude complainants from the hearing.

Details are at

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This is very serious business, and I urge those readers who reside in the United States to make their voices heard. Comcast is a media-distribution company: their business model is that they are paid to gateway electronic media on its way from providers to their customers, and Comcast appears to feel that they are entitled to block traffic they're not being paid extra to allow on their network, no matter what its origin or ownership may be.

I don't often get involved in political debates, and I usually discourage them in the Digest, but this is about the very heart of the Internet - the concept of Net Neutrality. The Internet's "pipe and ping" providers, Comcast among them, should be held to a "bits are bits" standard, and prohibited from discriminating against either any *type* of traffic or any *author* of traffic. Make no mistake: the conglomerates that provide the pipes are trying to put in electronic toll gates that they can close or open or squeeze slowly shut at their whim, with the aim of turning the Internet (a system whose design was paid for by U.S. taxpayers, BTW) into a tightly controlled distribution network where all content is approved by - and a tithe paid to - Comcast and its friends.

The news media have already proven that Comcast has been choking traffic created by BitTorrent, which can be used to download movies but can also be used to download the latest version of Linux. In addition, Comcast has been selectively enforcing a "no servers" clause in its user agreement, blocking traffic bound for web sites (like the one I run for my son's Boy Scout troop) and email servers (like to one I run to provide me with "throwaway" email addresses that dilute the value of Comcast's email lists), according to an algorithm that Comcast denies exists. Those who complain (I'm one) see the problem disappear for a few days, and then it returns without notice, without warning, and without explanation.

Lest we forget - Comcast is a CLEC! VoIP traffic on Comcast's cable Internet access system is a _DIRECT_ competitor to Comcast's own "out of band" VoIP offering (which "service", by the way, is execrable: I recommend you avoid it like the plague) and also a _DIRECT_ competitor to the Baby Bell's traditional circuit-switched telephone services. Comcast's Internet connections are often provided via pipes that Comcast leases from Ma Bell - need I say more?

Even if the VoIP question goes unanswered, Comcast still has a vested interest in preventing competition to its primary source of income, which is the movement of content provided by the entertainment industry. After all, they must pay royalties to the movie studios, and thus to the media conglomerates who have been making a very easy living sitting atop the choke point in the old-world entertainment business, which is the manufacture and distribution of records, CDs, and DVDs.

Do not be misled by claims of "piracy": Comcast and its cronies want the public to believe that these blocks are necessary to prevent theft of copyrighted content. It's a red herring: copying has _always_ been a marginal cost to the entertainment industry, and it has noting to do with the Net Neutrality debate. What the cokeheads in California are

*REALLY* afraid of is that the artists, performers, and authors now coming up in the old system will have a collective attack of common sense, and will realize that they can distribute _their_ work directly to _their_ audience, without paying Sony or Buena Vista or Comcast for the privilege.

The younger generation of singers and songwriters - and even movie directors - are realizing that getting one person in ten to pay you for a download from _your_ website is a lot more profitable than getting one dollar out of a hundred from Hollywood. (1) Comcast and its peers (pun intended) are seeking to have "copyright protection" serve as a stalking horse for their real agenda , which is putting their choke hold around the net. This is a debate where nobody should be neutral.


Bill Horne, as an individual

  1. Even the most successful and well known of entertainment franchises gets only 50% of the money received from sales of its product under the existing system: Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones once bragged that their record deal was finally at the point where "If you make a dollar, _I_ make a dollar", stated (correctly) that "That's the way it should be, because they have no risk".

Copyright (C) 2008, E. William Horne. All Rights Reserved.

(Remove QRM from my address for direct replies.)

Reply to
Bill Horne
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More specifically its being criticized for offering unlimited service and then turn around and limit it.

Any criticism about port-blocking or or bandwidth capping is a dead end.

[The excuses usually sound like these]
  • "If providers can't provide they bandwidth, they need to increase their backbone connection" - That may not be possible. go find another provider.
  • "I pay for internet service and I should be able to do anything I want" - Not of the TOS prohibits it. Go find another provider.
  • "What you're doing is illegal" - Says who? Go find another provider.

We block all bandwidth intensive use. If you have a compelling reason, say downloading a Linux distro, we can open ports for you on a case by case basis. If you feel you need more bandwidth, we can provide you with your own dedicated 10 Mbps link for $200 a month and $1,000 equipment and installation fee.

We don't "feel" entitled to block traffic, we ARE entitled. Its OUR service, if you don't like it, you shouldn't have signed up without reading our TOS.

If the agreement says no personal servers, then you can't run them. We do allow some server application, selectively...but we charge more per month.

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THAT was not democratic behavior and Comcast will be bashed rightly for that.

I, a Comcast customer, support the idea of limiting the abuse of the bandwidth simply because I use part of that bandwidth. At the moment this is the only way to have a remotely "Fair" distribution.

As an analogy, London now charges a toll on vehicles entering the city core. This practice will spread.

Net Neutrality sounds simple AND democratic. But it is not as simple as it would appear. The Backbone should be net neutral, but the last mile should be subject to bandwidth restrictions. I suspect there are some gray areas in between.

This rant sounds a tad paranoid to me.

I use CallVantage and have used the [old] Comcast phone service. There was a LOT OF GRIEF switching!

Very True - too bad the anti-trust laws have been circular filed!

You are right again: it is a red herring.

What should we do?

Rick Merrill

Reply to
Rick Merrill

Actually, it _is_ Democratic behavior: packing public meetings, voting "on the view", and similar skulduggery are as old as the hills. It's the blatant use of this old tactic in an electronic age that scares me: Comcast is either _very_ desperate or _very_ arrogant, or both, to pull a trick that is so obvious and so easily documented.

Whoa! Stop!! Misconception alert!!!

NOBODY is saying that abuse of bandwidth should be tolerated. NOBODY is claiming that Comcast or any other ISP doesn't have a right to manage their network.

_If_ I, as a (thankfully former) Comcast subscriber, deprive other users of the service they pay for because I'm doing a BitTorrent download of Ubuntu HardyHeron during the Monday morning email rush hour, then Comcast is entitled to throttle or cut off my access until such time as it can take place without interfering with others. I was a network manager at a small ISP, and I know how hard it is to deal with bandwidth hogs. THIS IS NOT ABOUT THAT.

What Network Neutrality is about is requiring Comcast, which enjoys common-carrier protections against being sued for the actions of its users, from SELECTIVELY throttling traffic based on non-technical criteria. If my HardyHeron download is cut off because I'm hogging the bandwidth others need, that's tough for me - but if it's cut off because Comcast has a secret agreement with Microsoft to discourage the use of open-source software, then I'm entitled to judicial relief.

As well it should: governments have an obligation to protect their citizens from each other's folly, and discouraging people from driving to a crowded city center is a legitimate government duty. However, the analogy changes when the reason for the restriction is based on something other than openly debated public policy: how would you like being charged a toll based on which dealer sold you the car or which store you intend to visit - or which suburb you live in?

The last mile _is_ subject to bandwidth restrictions: they're called "the laws of physics". Nobody is demanding that any one customer get preferential treatment: Net Neutrality says exactly that. If I'm downloading a song from itunes, I should have no more _and_ no less bandwidth than the guy across the street who's downloading a song from Napster, because Napster should be prohibited from paying Comcast to give their downloads priority!

Who was it that said "Even paranoids have enemies"? I wasn't making that up: the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other watchdogs confirmed that it's going on: see

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for details. Moreover, members (I'm one) of the Boston Linux & Unix Group have also confirmed selective port blockages.

Glad you asked! Here's my idea:

  1. Get Mad.
  2. Get Together.
  3. Demand that the FCC _and_ the Congress address the issue in open public forums. Either Comcast is a common carrier or it's not: there can't be any gray area or hidden agenda.

Thanks for taking time to write.

Reply to
Bill Horne

Would you agree, however, that these last mile bandwidth restrictions should be _totally content neutral_?

That is, whoever is selling you this last mile bandwidth may limit the total number of bits per second or per day or per month they send you.

(Preferably telling you in advance what those limits will be, and how they will be applied.)

But, they should never exercise any discrimination over which particular bits they send you, or how rapidly they send any particular bits, based on what the bits contain, where they're going, or where they came from.

(Unless, of course, _you_ have specifically instructed them to block certain bits or certain sources, e.g. as in spam filters or the like.)

Agreement on this?

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I don't see it as paranoid but when we get strident about how we phrase things it makes us appear powerless. If we buckle down and organize we won't be powerless: we will be a force to be reckoned with.

My wife is a full time lobbyist for our church. She has been doing that work in Washington since 1980. She has demonstrated to a fair number of people that one hundred letters to a senator's office can change a vote and that fifty non-form letters to a representative's office will always change a vote. To a member of congress fifty constituents who will take the time to write a letter is a blizzard.

Like a lot of other issues if we wait until the other fella or gal acts we'll end up with multi-tiered net access. Those that don't give the carriers the monthly fees they're having wet dreams about will get only what some advertiser is willing to pay to send them. Sort of like how broadcast television outside of PBS works right now.

In the interest of full disclosure I am the moderators brother. That means he gives me a harder time then he'd ever give any of you.

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