As proponents of net neutrality campaign to implement legislation that would force internet service providers to treat all traffic equally, Comcast has dealt a blow to the cause. According to an Associated Press report, the country's second-biggest ISP has started hampering peer-to-peer traffic from a number of protocols, including BitTorrent, eDonkey, and Gnutella. The AP says its tests suggests that Comcast still allows users to download, but not upload, data via BitTorrent.
Comcast's technology kicks in, though not consistently, when one BitTorrent user attempts to share a complete file with another user.
Each PC gets a message invisible to the user that looks like it comes from the other computer, telling it to stop communicating. But neither message originated from the other computer — it comes from Comcast. If it were a telephone conversation, it would be like the operator breaking into the conversation, telling each talker in the voice of the other: "Sorry, I have to hang up. Good bye."
eDonkey and Gnutella are used almost exclusively for illegal file sharing, but the decision to hamper BitTorrent traffic may negatively impact a number of legal services and organizations that use the protocol to disseminate files quickly and easily to a large number of users.
The AP comments that Comcast's methods differ from that of some other ISPs, which use traffic shaping to slow down peer-to-peer traffic. "Comcast's approach to traffic shaping is different because of the drastic effect it has on one type of traffic — in some cases blocking it rather than slowing it down — and the method used, which is difficult to circumvent and involves the company falsifying network traffic."
Comcast effectively denied any such activity when asked by the AP. "Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent," said a company spokesman, who nonetheless added that the company "uses sophisticated methods to keep Net connections running smoothly."