An Uncomfortable Fence to Be on

Comcast just made official it’s plan to cap internet usage for residential subscribers.  They’ve been talking about doing this for awhile, though previously it had just been to charge people who go over a preset limit.  That limit will be 250GB a month.

Now, let’s just get something out of the way right up front: their reason of “we are keeping the internet from slowing down” isn’t entirely true.  I’m not saying it’s untrue either, as heavy loads from their subscribers will no doubt-ably effect their overall performance (if you have cable internet and wonder why your connection slows to a crawl during certain points in the day, it’s because everyone else in your neighborhood are all hopping online at the same time and taking the bandwidth from you). 

However, I would think that this has just as much to do with file sharing as it does with bandwidth control.  All ISP’s hate file sharing, and have long been trying to find ways to curb its use.  Back when Comcast was AT&T Broadband, we’d hop onto the newsgroups (alt.2600 ftw!) and see who was opening up their FTP that night.  Hop on at the appointed time and download as much software as you could get!  They stopped that by quickly locating incoming connections to specific people, so if one person was suddenly being requested from 300 subscribers they could shut them down.  BitTorrent came out and rendered that process ineffective, so they blocked the port which BT uses . . . so BT designed a way to cloak that port so it works anyway.

Rule of thumb when it comes to the “Internet Generation”: if you spend a lot of time trying to keep people from doing something, it’s only going to make them mad and find a way to get around it faster.  It’s like challenging a teenager with a “I’ll bet you can’t [insert dumb challenge here]”.  A perfect example is the DVD CSS copy protection algorithm; introduced in 1996, broken in 1998.  Blu Ray will follow the same fate, so I don’t know why they keep touting it’s security features.

Back on topic, the new way to combat BitTorrent usage is to target its largest users; people who initially seed large files (read: movies and game software) and keep them seeded 24/7.  As I said, I don’t doubt that Comcast (and other ISP’s for that matter) really are concerned about bogging down their network but let’s look at this from a corporate standpoint:

  • Invest money into equipment to increase network bandwidth to reach the coaxial theoretical limit (343Mbit down / 122Mbit up for US DOCSIS 3.0 Spec) and charge an additional fee to subscribers for it OR
  • Limit people’s use of unauthorized internet usage (according to their EULA), keep the network chugging along at acceptable speeds, and not have to spend a dime killing two birds.

It’s obvious which one they are going to choose.  Part of me can totally understand their decision to cap the usage rate, and since it doesn’t really effect me (my estimated monthly usage is around 90GB, and I’m considered to be an “enthusiast”) I have a hard time defending people who do more than double that.  But then we get into the penalties for breaching this new limit.

First-time offenders of the bandwidth limit will get a call from Comcast, while future overages result in Internet service suspended for a year, reports said.

That’s awfully harsh.  This isn’t anything new for ISP’s* (read below), but still . . . not cool.

So I’m torn about this new policy; on the one hand it seems reasonable and doesn’t effect me anyway, on the other it seems a little totalitarian.  What are everyone else’s thoughts on it?

*Back in the day, there was a story floating around of a guy who lived out in the middle of nowhere who wanted faster internet.  He managed to hack his cable modem to release the built-in software controlled limiter and had unlimited bandwidth from the internet (I imagine it in terms of being one with eternity).  He had it for a whole 10 minutes until his ISP found out what he did, shut down his connection, charged him for violating the EULA and hacking equipment that they technically owned, and permanently banned him from ever using their service again.  Because of his remote location, he is forever cursed to use AOL Dial-Up.  I’m not sure exactly how true this story is, but (and no joke here) it’s scary enough to keep most people from ever messing with their modems, and even people who do are wary of pushing it too far.


Executive Producer for Stolendroids Podcast. Also resident 'tech-head' and de-facto leader of the group.

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  1. Here’s an easy way around Comcasts limitations, get DSL. I’m not certain about other providers, but as a Qwest employee I can tell you they do Not have any type of a limit on downloads. So for the groovy people out there who seed my torrents, get DSL please and let me continue to bite my thumb at US copyright laws in peace.

  2. Well, that’s not entirely true . . . DSL’s main limitation is the speed itself.  I know you and I go back and forth on this a lot, but the fact of the matter is my cable is faster than your DSL.  Granted, with DSL the speed is (almost always) guaranteed, and with cable it’s usually a best case scenario.  Also, it really depends on who you are going through in terms of the speed/price ratio; if your ISP was charging you twice the price for what you have, you’d be singing a different tune.

    In the long run, for a residential user, I’d be happier with the fiber network which give you unlimited speed and caps at 100GB a month . . . if only they extended out here.

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