Thursday, November 15, 2007

Comcast Information Stupidhighway

Over the past day or two I've been receiving an increasing amount of attention from the suit against Comcast that names their bittorrent throttling and forgery, among other things, as being against Federal computer fraud laws.

As much as I'd like to be getting this sort of publicity, I'll just come right out and say it. I, Jon Hart, am not the Jon Hart that is currently suing Comcast. In fact, I have never been a customer of Comcast's ISP business, nor do I have any intention of doing so. Furthermore, I'd become homeless on the beach here in sunny Santa Monica and just steal wireless from one of the hundreds of homes that leak 802.11 out to the sand prior to ever stooping so low as to become a Comcast customer. I've seen it done. Heck, I don't discriminate -- AT&T/Timewarner, RoadRunner, and Verizon, you know you are not innocent either.

These ISPs make a healthy profit, and can we blame them for some of their practices? Yes and no.

ISPs make money because they oversubscribe. This is the practice of selling more bandwidth than they have available. Even if you ignore the theoretical limits of the physical medium over which Comcast's cable travels, there are some obvious problems. Comcast offers download speeds from 1-16Mbs. If you combine all of Comcast's customers in a given city or region, if they were all pulling 8-16Mbs, Comcast would become a pool of molten silicon fairly quickly. They rely on the fact that most consumers will never push anything near their capacity, much less for an extended period of time. However, once you get enough customers doing enough ungodly things online at 2am, the chances of Comcast's backbone running into issues skyrocket. The right solution to ensure that you still make your profit is just degrade the "offending" customer's services enough that the probability of exceeding capacity is low enough that the risk is acceptable.

Comcast and other ISPs take things to a new level. Its one thing to rate limit, as this just has to happen for a business based on oversubscription to profit. Forging TCP RST packets or, worse yet, injecting fake messages to tear down or prematurely terminate traffic (primarily P2P) is just downright dirty. Their use of Sandvine allows them to continue to profit while continually bringing on new customers at the expense of a healthy, unadulterated Internet experience. Think thats the worst of it? It isn't. There have been plenty of rumors and various bits of proof that Comcast has been deploying its own nasty brand of DNS redirection, a la SIte Finder, over the past year or so.

Are there other options out there? Sure. DSLExtreme and Speakeasy offer no-bullshit connectivity. They give you bandwidth and leave you the hell alone. In fact, they encourage you to share your connectivity with others, run servers off of you DSL connection and filter none of your inbound or outbound traffic. Its like the Wild West and it is great.

Why do Comcast and others continue to exist? Because far too many Americans are easily duped by all of this "triple-play powerplay", "powerboost", "the fastest Internet", candy coated, re-branded bullshit. Aside from the molestation that happens on Comcast, you still connect to the same Internet that I do. None of the features are unique or better than what already exists everywhere else. Comcast's "The Fan"? Its called Youtube. Sharing Photos? Flickr. And for the love of God, if I see one more "portal" that reminds me of AOL's purple-panel-of-doom, I'm going to hurl.

Do yourself a favor. Support lawsuits like this. Voice your concern and rage to your ISP and talk to others about it. If all else fails, ditch Comcast.

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