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Comcast to be sued in US over peer to peer limits
Monday 19 November 2007 14:37:26 by Andrew Ferguson

Many UK consumers who have grown used to traffic management and usage limits may have been surprised to hear the UK is not the only place where traffic management goes on. Comcast, a cable broadband provider in the US, has been caught at the game of managing peer to peer traffic, namely BitTorrent, as can be read about over at vnunet.com.

A US resident has filed a law suit claiming Comcast has breached its contract. The case states that the marketing describes the service as "unfettered access to all the internet has to offer".

Comcast is getting attacked from several sides, as the company Vuze who use BitTorrent to distribute content has filed a complaint with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) who are the US equivalent of Ofcom. The complaint takes the point that providers, by blocking or significantly slowing down certain applications, are also blocking legitimate commercial operations.

If the FCC was to rule that all network traffic must be treated equally then it would seem two options are left open, spend more money on the networks to avoid things like latency and packet loss increasing dramatically, and raising the retail prices to cover these costs appropriatly, or only increase capacity as more people sign-up. While the US broadband market is viewed by many people as a place of cheap plentiful connections, this to some extent has been fueled by the amount of network capacity left idle by collapsed firms in the past, the days of plenty may be coming to an end.

So what about the UK? Well we still see providers advertising unlimited products but in the background managing peoples usage, and in some cases this management may slow people down to the extent that they'd be better off signing up to a provider with a clear and simple usage limit. Some parts of the broadband industry want content providers to pay fees to ensure an applications traffic is prioritised which introduces the two tier system oft discussed in the US.

So what of the future? The average amount downloaded per month seems to increase year on year, not by hundreds of GigaBytes but perhaps 1 to 2GB extra each year, which when the average is around 5 to 7GB is a large change. The last few years have seen prices decrease when many non-broadband products have increased by around 3% per year. Allowing for a 3% inflation rate since 2000, a 0.5Mbps broadband connection that cost £45 per month would now cost around £55, but 0.5Mbps connections now start at around £10 to £15 a month. If one was to look around providers price lists you can see that a usage of 150GB which is the maximum possible on a 0.5Mbps connection can be had for around £55.

So we need to be careful in our calls for unlimited to really mean unlimited or either the word and concept will disappear or prices will rise to make it possible again. Laws and regulation may appear to be a solution but rules to ensure average speeds are published in advertising may lead to adverts that simple avoid any facts and sell the product purely on lifestyle which to some extent is already happening in TV advertising for broadband products.

Comments

Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
The Vuze case would be an interesting one to read - "We use P2P distribution to avoid investing in server and bandwidth capacity. We demand that you provide bandwidth for free and don't restrict our use of it".
Posted by PeteK over 9 years ago
@Herdwick

Hmm there is an easy two word answer to Vuze.... but I daren't publish it here!
Posted by KarlAustin over 9 years ago
At the end of the day though, users are paying for it - just because the ISPs don't charge a sensible amount to cover the costs, doesn't mean the user shouldn't be able to use what is advertised and using whatever protocol they wish to use - If they want to use HTTP then so be it, if they want to use all their data transfer/bandwidth via a P2P protocol or FTP or SMTP then they should be allowed.
Posted by KarlAustin over 9 years ago
Basically what the ISPs are doing, is engineering it so that the protocols likely to see the most traffic, can't be used to use up all the product they are selling - thus stopping it being fully utilised.
Posted by sparky_132 over 9 years ago
Net Neutrality is a big debate at the moment. It is important to people who want to ensure the Internet remains free and fair. Whereas the ISPs argue that they should be allowed to differentiate content types and act accordingly.
Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
Roll on the "no P2P" ISP (some have that in their T&Cs already). I have no problem with VoIP and other interactive / real time services being given priority over store & forward email or other non-real time / background tasks.
Posted by whatever2 over 9 years ago
" So we need to be careful..."

What a load of Tosh !

What we need is to do is push ISP's somehow into only being allowed to use unlimited when a service truly is, and when it's metered against a triggered FUP then it needs to be said what that is and not described as unlimited.

Then, you would be able to see what services were truly unlimited and thus why they may cost so much and why other services were so cheap.
Posted by keith_thfc over 9 years ago
If providers manage traffic it should be mentioned on the face of their product descriptions.

How difficult would it be for Ofcom to enforce that? It would certainly mean a lot more than the current meaningless "FUP applies".

At least then the clean unshaped services would be differentiated from the phony fake unlimited offered by the big boys.
Posted by zebedee over 9 years ago
ISPs get away with using the word Unlimited because their interpretation is that it applies it to the amount of time you can spend connected online, ie unlimited, and in this respect they are technically right. It is the consumers who think it is applicable to downloads, and for obvious (and indeed devious) reasons the ISPs do nothing to conteract that opinion!
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
quote"So what about the UK?"
The UK... oh you mean the country with a gutless regulator that does nothing and the country still using moldy copper to deliver so called state of the art services...
As for prices dont even get me started on that and all that nonsense about how much better it is now than it used to be... The UK is one of the most expensive and slow places in europe for the internet. If not the world.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
The sooner attacks against certain throttle you to death providers happens here the better IMO.
If as a company they cant provide a service people demand they shouldnt be in business.
Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
"If as a company they cant provide a service people demand they shouldnt be in business." if that were the case then they wouldn't be. You need to expand your thinking to encompass people that never use P2P or Usenet and pull an average of a GB or two per month. For all those people the accounts you detest with so much spite and venom may be perfectly acceptable.

One "unlimited" service has a 60 GB FUP and a peak time speed restriction - it does not have a GB limit where it stops working. So is it unlimited ?
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
Folks *can* have unlimited already, it's just most folks aren't prepared to pay the price for unlimited and the mass market ISPs aren't willing to be honest about it.

Pay per GB, with a price cap and NO traffic management/QoS, and be done with it. Would suit some people, e.g. me :) Come back Metronet, all is forgiven.

Without the mickeytakers, unlimited might still actually have meant unlimited. Broadband is always-on not always-downloading. Think about THAT for a moment or three.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
quote"You need to expand your thinking to encompass people that never use P2P or Usenet and pull an average of a GB or two per month. For all those people the accounts you detest with so much spite and venom may be perfectly acceptable.
My local supermarket sells an average 2 pints of semi skimmed milk to each person if i want 2 pints of full fat milk though i can, have it. This story is no different, they are clearly discriminating against usage with a complete lie of a claim "unfettered access to all the internet has to offer"
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
quote"One "unlimited" service has a 60 GB FUP and a peak time speed restriction - it does not have a GB limit where it stops working. So is it unlimited ?"

Dunno what you mean by this, i didnt mentioning anything about limited or unlimited services. If you download 1 gig a month via http at full pelt, why shouldnt i also be allowed 1 gig via torrents at full pelt (providing of course people are sharing fast enough for me to grab it at full speed)? Services like the one in this news item are discrimatory, its nothing to do with limited or unlimited.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
quote"Without the mickeytakers, unlimited might still actually have meant unlimited. Broadband is always-on not always-downloading. Think about THAT for a moment or three."
Thought about and makes no sense...
What is a mickey taker TODAY??
What was a mickey taker 5 YEARS AGO?
What will a mickey taker be NEXT YEAR OR 50 YEARS ON??
Like anything tech related it gets developed and the demand increases, maybe its time some ISPs start meeting the demand rather than trying to hide from it.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Also if broadband is as you say "ALWAYS ON", surely that means anyone offering a service with a gig limit per month which wont let you use the service once you have reached that gig limit, IS NOT offering broadband as all of a sudden its no longer "ALWAYS ON"... Either broadband is always on or it isnt... You cant have both!
Posted by keith_thfc over 9 years ago
"ISPs get away with using the word Unlimited because their interpretation is that it applies it to the amount of time you can spend connected online, ie unlimited".

Sorry but to the average person, unlimited means without restriction. All you can eat pizza does not involve having to share one slice between the entire restaurant at peak times.

Some ISP's have twisted the word "unlimited" purely and simply because they know the regulators are too clueless to care.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
"Like anything tech related it gets developed and the demand increases"

Agreed. Broadband *does* cost a lot less to the *average* punter now than it did five years ago. Now tell me which of the ISP's costs have come down by a corresponding amount. You can't, because they haven't. Therefore something else has to give, or the ISPs are out of business (you may have noticed, some are anyway).

Maybe it's time some punters started paying their way rather than spitting out their dummies? It would help if Ofcon woke up too.
Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
"All you can eat pizza" comes with restrictions too, you do have to share the oven capacity at peak times and if you eat too much regularly there's a fair chance you'll be barred or the offer will close.
Posted by keith_thfc over 9 years ago
c_j

If ISP's can't afford to provide the service they advertise they should be out of business.
Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
"What is a mickey taker TODAY??
What was a mickey taker 5 YEARS AGO?"

one and the same - someone who bought a contended service shared with a whole lot of other people and then set about using it as if they were the only person using it. The sort of noddy who sets a P2P app to use maximum bandwidth both ways 24/7, presumably until their wrists fail.
Posted by jrawle over 9 years ago
"So we need to be careful in our calls for unlimited to really mean unlimited"

Not at all. What most people want are clear adverts that don't claim to be something they are not. Cheaper products with restrictions are fine, as long as they are advertised as such.

It's time for Ofcom to introduce a summary box, similar to that used for credit cards, which contains details of the broadband service in a form that can be easily compared and must be shown with each advert.
Posted by KarlAustin over 9 years ago
But if they are being sold an unlimited service, what's the problem with that? Unlimited means just that, without limits. Ofcom and the ASA need to wake up, and realise that allowing ISPs to turn around and say, "Oh, we mean unlimited connected time" is patently stupid, when ADSL is an "always on" technology.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 9 years ago
Which ASA adjudications have actually passed the "Oh, we mean unlimited connected time" as OK?
Posted by Jamiepw over 9 years ago
Basically what this boils down to is that the majority of the ISP's do not have enough bandwidth to go around, the stuff that they do have is mostly contended at 50:1, and that a lot of people are on the up to 8Mb speed, which in reality is more like 4Mb average.

They know that they cannot deliver faster speeds, so what they do is let people see that they are having the speeds that are perceived to be quick on web browsing and email retrieval, so if you use a PTP service which is heavily into bandwidth then this is a threat to the other 49 users of that shared 8mb service...cont'd
Posted by Jamiepw over 9 years ago
Carpetburn is right on the type of infrastructure that we have is moldy old copper and Aluminium, this system cannot deliver much more at the moment unless you live on top of the exchange and even then you are still contended with 49 other people.

If BT's 21st Century Network going to sort this out by delivering higher bandwidth to the exchanges? not really unless the ISP's reduce the contention rates so that everyone is assumed to have a higher minimum rate, then
the end user would have a truly better service (That is compared to what he/she is having now)
Posted by Jamiepw over 9 years ago
This will only be solved when the end user can have higher speeds that are either uncontended or have a low contention rate.

It is only going to happen when a big player starts offering this service at a reasonable rate, then the others will start following, but until then we are going to be fighting over the measly scraps of bandwidth with the other 49'ers.
Posted by Guzzo over 9 years ago
Why do people want a service of 8-24mb switched on constant download full speed 24/7?
I wonder what DVD's CD's they are after? The internet was started as a page based information service and perhaps commercial greed and stupidity has changed it. I am VERY happy with my ISP. a 50 gig cap per month.£23.99 month 100gig for £6.00 extra when needed (rarely) and unmetered access between 1:00am and 6:00am.
what the heell more does anyone need eh?
Posted by keith_thfc over 9 years ago
"Why do people want a service of 8-24mb switched on constant download full speed 24/7?"

If users are sold an "unlimited" service then to get the best value for money they should be using it as much as possible.

"The internet was started as a page based information service and perhaps commercial greed and stupidity has changed it."

So much for progress. Would you rather we go back to dial up days?
Posted by rasczak over 9 years ago
I have an "unlimited" water supply for a fixed fee as part of my council tax. Therefore to get the best value for money I should leave all the taps in the house running running at full flow 24/7
Posted by keith_thfc over 9 years ago
Rasczak - the difference is that water is not marketed as being "unlimited" and you don't see tv ads featuring Uma Thurman saying you can use as much as you like for all your water needs at top speed.
Posted by chrysalis over 9 years ago
I think Net Neutrality is an important issue and if it becomes enforced the uk bt ipstream market will be in a mess, as karl said isps currently manage traffic usually by shaping protocols that fully utilise connections. Without the ability to do this we woul either see entanet type throttling which is neutral so wouldnt be affected or advertised speeds would come down and prices upwards.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
"I have an "unlimited" water supply for a fixed fee as part of my council tax."

I'd be very surprised if you do.

"This will only be solved when the end user can have higher speeds that are either uncontended or have a low contention rate."

Already available from a select few niches ISPs, just not at a price the mickeytakers are prepared to pay.

Let me know when the rules of arithmetic have changed and we can continue the discussion. Till then, pay up, or move along, nothing to see here.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
"What is a mickey taker TODAY??
What was a mickey taker 5 YEARS AGO?"
one and the same - someone who bought a contended service shared with a whole lot of other people and then set about using it as if they were the only person using it. The sort of noddy who sets a P2P app to use maximum bandwidth both ways 24/7, presumably until their wrists fail.
And as i said its nothing to do with how much people use. A p2p app going 24/7 5 years ago wouldnt use the bandwidth a p2p app going 24/7 uses today.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Providers can run and hide and bury their head in the sand all they want, but all the time they keep quoting faster UPTO speeds and all the time the net is developing NOTHING is gonna change. Usage whether you use p2p or not for a general user increases year in year out, 5 years ago you would never have found a site with flash animation, music and god knows what going on, the demand for speed and the demand for actual consumption (in terms of gigs) no matter what protocol people are using increases year upon year.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Its nothing to do with 'heavy' or 'light' downloaders, its all to do with how one area of technology has developed but those that provide access to that technology have not.
Posted by bosie over 9 years ago
I vote for the dictionary definition of unlimited. The price should be fixed and transparent to prevent secrecy and 'unlimited' from applying to profit margin. Anyone wanting a freebie at someone else's expense deserves disrespect.

Unlimited
[Adjective]
Not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
"its all to do with how ... technology has developed but those that provide access ... have not."

Actually it's to do with arithmetic and logic, which don't appear to be developing well amongst Joe Public these days.

Square that circle, please: among an ISP's costs, which of them have reduced sufficiently in the last few years, enough to allow ISPs to still make a bit of money based on reduced revenue per punter combined with vastly greater usage per punter?

[There's a separate discussion about Ofcon, and about "unlimited"]
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Again i also dont think limited or unlimited is the issue. People keep harping on about how people should pay there way, which is a rather narrow minded and stupid remark and ill explain why.
Lets imagine for a second all the heavy users agree and say yep fine fair enough i want to download 1TB a month and im willing to pay for every single kilobit no matter what the cost, the isp lets say for a largish one in the UK has 500,000 users and lets imagine they are all heavy users.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
NOW will all those get their full speed, with no throttles 24/7, no restrictions at all to speed or quality of service if they are paying for every kilobit???? NO they wont cos its not possible, so please enough with all this they should pay for what they use BS cos the simple fact is ISPs couldnt provide it even if people were willing to pay for every kilobit.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Even a cable service and a LLU service wouldnt be able to cope, sure you can say ah but they will because with the increased revenue they would increase capacity for the users, but how long does it take to get extra capacity installed and up and running (months thats how long) If i or anyone is paying for ever kilobit they use, they should get what they pay for right now not months down the line when the ISP has made the profit.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Even if they could do it and people downloading 1TB a month payed for every kilobit lighter users would still beehatch and whine because suddenly their service is again on a go slow as the system struggles to cope with the heavy mob.
Posted by bosie over 9 years ago
Personally I'm not even thinking about ADSL, it's dead technology as far as I'm concerned. I agree it's impossible to price truly unlimited products on contended services - the technology to eliminate contention for today's usage is allegedly out there but we'll never get it unless someone can pay for it.
Posted by gromit69 over 9 years ago
Strangely enough, I've just been looking at real 8Mb connections today (i.e. leased line stuff)
And they cost a little more than £25 a month....
Posted by wispy over 9 years ago
Posted by gromit69 about 2 hours ago
Strangely enough, I've just been looking at real 8Mb connections today (i.e. leased line stuff)
And they cost a little more than £25 a month....

1:1 contention on an 8mb connection for £25 a month? post up a link, i could do with a laugh.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
It may well be 1:1 contention (or they may claim that) what else they throttle though i imagine if it exists would make it basically useless.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 9 years ago
http://bbs.adslguide.org.uk best place to carry on lengthy discussions and avoids the need for multiple entries.

Comments section is meant for short comments, to expand or agree/disagree with any editorial content.
Posted by KarlAustin over 9 years ago
CARPETBURN - If there were 500k users downloading 1TB per month and paying for every kilobit, then of course the ISP could do it and afford to do it - unless of course they are charging below the cost price. The whole point of saying, "users should pay for what they use" is so that each user covers the cost of providing service to them and doesn't have to rely on being partially covered by other lower volume users.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
NO they couldnt do it because they dont have the infrastructure in place to meet that continually maxing of a connection from hundreds of thousands of users. As i said sure a few months down the line when they have taken my money and bought more capacity they might, but why should people pay for something right this minute that cant be delivered. If you think any ISP could deliver 1TB per month to each and every customer in their userbase tomorrow even if they pay for it you are dreaming.
Posted by gromit69 over 9 years ago
When I said a little more than £25 p/m, I'm talking about £1000 p/m!
Posted by adriandaz over 9 years ago
"Unlimited
[Adjective]
Not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent"

Perhaps if ISPs used the term "Unmetered" them there wouldn't be such an uproar. Have as much as you want depending on network conditions, contention and available capacity.
Posted by Guzzo over 9 years ago
I can see my point was missed.Not suprising considering the current state of Education in the UK There seems an air of covert Hostility about. I guess some people just want to download 24/7 forever without limit because they have some axe to grind. I use the net when I need to. Like the car. I don't drive it day and night to get the FULL value from my road tax. The fault does lie with ISP's who really should simplify matters for the simple useres. State Unlimited access. Also a copper cable has limits to how much data can flow though it at a given time. Ask any physicist.
Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
"but why should people pay for something right this minute that cant be delivered" - in order to ensure that it will be available in the near future ? Sounds like short term thinking to me.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
quote"I use the net when I need to. Like the car. I don't drive it day and night to get the FULL value from my road tax."
The point is though if you wanted to drive it all day and night on your road tax you could.
You pay your fixed fee for the net though but you cant use it as much as you want or if you can you get punished by throttles etc.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
quote""but why should people pay for something right this minute that cant be delivered" - in order to ensure that it will be available in the near future ? Sounds like short term thinking to me."
Its not short term thinking at all, why should someone that wants to use their connection to it technical full potential be the people that basically end up paying for everyone else?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
If a provider can give me 1TB a month RIGHT NOW month in month out with no throttles or other similar limitations we currently see id happily pay a hundred or even hundreds for it. The point is though they cant give it and if they cant give it im not paying for it.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
People are too quick to just blame heavy net users for issues, when in fact its not their thought at all, if an ISP advertised genuingly what they can provide and what they cant their would be no issue. If a supermarket shelf has moldy food you dont blame other customers, yet if you have a moldy old connection thats exactly what some people do.
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