If a person steals and gets caught, then continues to do so over and over again, what do you call them? Either an idiot or a kleptomaniac, generally. I’m not sure what the name for a compulsive Bittorrent-traffic blocker is, but that or “idiot” is certainly a label that could apply to giant Internet service provider’s Comcast and Cox, according to a new report.
Here’s the boiled-down summary: Last year, the Associated Press caught Comcast “throttling” peer-to-peer traffic under the Bittorrent protocol. Unhappiness from techies and tech companies ensued. Bureaucrats in Washington began talking about fining Comcast, or passing laws to prevent its practices. Then late in March, Comcast relented, saying it would play nice and striking a deal with BitTorrent, the company, to learn how to handle Bittorrent traffic. Most intelligent observers (and I) were suspicious, although a BitTorrent exec told me that there was no reason to believe Comcast would continue throttling.
It seemed likely Comcast would still do a bit of throttling during peak hours, easing off the practice as it learned how to handle the traffic. However, a new study by the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems shows that as recently as yesterday, Comcast and its rival ISP Cox were still gratuitously blocking traffic during all hours of the day.
Now, it’s easy to understand why large ISPs would be concerned with Bittorrent traffic. It consumes more costly bandwidth than other types of traffic, thus lowering their profits. But it’s also increasingly used for all sorts of applications, especially delivery of content like video. P2P is part of the Internet backbone of the future, and heedlessly blocking it is sure to provoke a strong reaction.
Cox, at least, discloses in its subscriber agreement that it may limit certain traffic. But in the long run, that’s not likely to cut the mustard. For one thing, nobody reads those agreements, and for another, consumers in many areas only have one or two choices for Internet access, leaving no alternative to a restrictive ISP. Legislators are beginning to become Internet-savvy, and most won’t be warm to the notion of a couple of larger ISPs stunting growth to preserve their own margins.
This isn’t likely to turn out badly for consumers — if legislation is passed to permanently halt the large ISP’s activities, they’ll be forced to either innovate and fix their problems internally, or they’ll be forced to bow out in favor of stronger companies. Stay tuned for more, and if you happen to notice in the meantime that your downloads are moving suspiciously slowly — you’re probably right.