ATT has been getting lambasted for censoring a Pearl Jam concert, but the hue and cry over Comcast’s throttling of BitTorrent traffic hasn’t gotten nearly as much play in the mainstream media. According to reports at TorrentFreak, which so far have not been disclaimed, Comcast is using software that interrupts BitTorrent traffic in a way that prevents some torrents from being effectively seeded. BitTorrent has long been restricted by ISPs; the rationale is usually that BitTorrent users gobble up huge amounts of bandwidth. But Comcast is using technology from a company called Sandvine, which does more:
Sandvine breaks every (seed) connection with new peers after a few seconds if itÃ¢â?¬â?¢s not a Comcast user. This makes it virtually impossible to seed a file, especially in small swarms without any Comcast users. Some users report that they can still connect to a few peers, but most of the Comcast customers see a significant drop in their upload speed.
Fine, you might say. Aren’t BitTorrent users all scofflaws? Isn’t the world of BitTorrent inhabited by warez traders and movie thieves? Yes it is, but the BitTorrent protocol is simply a means of peer-to-peer file distribution. So it is also used for legitimate uses like distribution of Linux software. Despite these noninfringing uses, BitTorrent’s connection with copyright-violating activity has given it of a bad reputation. Perhaps that’s why advocacy groups like SaveTheInternet aren’t jumping up and down about Comcast’s direct interference with BitTorrent traffic. The censoring of political speech is an obvious banner to rally the troops behind. But packet shaping, which is what Comcast is doing, is probably the more fundamental Net Neutrality issue. Should Comcast be allowed to shape traffic in order to maintain network performance, or is that an unnecessary and overreaching form of control by an ISP?