As both Declan McCullough’s The Iconoclast blog and Farhad Manjoo’s Machinist blog on Salon report, the AP has caught Comcast red-handed interferring with BitTorrent peer-to-peer filesharing with even relatively small, uncopyrighted files. The comes after Comcast denied a TorrentFreak report in August that the broadband provider was blocking BitTorrent uploads from its customers, which appears now to have been simply another outright Comcast lie.
What is particularly surprising is the size of the file in the tests run by the AP — the Gutenburg Bible text used by the AP for the test is only 4.24MB (the average size of an .mpeg or .avi file of a two-hour feature film is 700-900MB). If Comcast is blocking uploads of 4.24MB, the intention to prevent any use of BitTorrent on its network. While Comcast does have serious peak-use capacity constraints on its network, this level of blocking is like using an artillery piece to swat a fly. A more tightly targeted blocking effort would have put highest bandwidth BitTorrent users out of business, freeing up significant newtwork capacity, while rendering the activity almost invisible to tests like that run by the AP. Despite the fact that its network needs significant upgrading, Comcast’s network isn’t being threatened by 4.24MB BitTorrent uploads. Why would Comcast run the risk of the adverse publicity associated with getting caught blocking small files of clearly public-source documents?
I have a hypothesis. Mind you, it’s only a hypothesis, but it fits the available evidence and there’s very little otherwise which explains why Comcast is willing to weather the ensuing bad press. It is clear to anyone who has watched the FCC closely that Chairman Martin has had Comcast in his sights for some time. Comcast is the cable industry’s baddest bad-boy, and a bad-boy which has been defiant and disrespectful of Martin’s authority. There are a number of crucial issues which are coming to decision at the FCC in the next several months which will likely involve Comcast taking it on the chin: commercial cable leased access, carriage dispute resolution procedures, mandatory cable a la carte pricing, cable ownership limits, possible invocation of the 70/70 rule. In short, Comcast is likely to be on the ropes and getting pummeled on some issues in which it is very interested. At the same time the intellectual property mafia has been reaching out to broadband providers. The folks at the RIAA and MPAA regard the internet as the worst mistake they ever let happen and need cooperation from major providers if they are going to have a prayer of cutting into the peer-to-peer filesharing which has dramatically lowered their profits in the last decade. Comcast needs allies to lobby against even the Republican FCC majority wanting its scalp for past misbeaviour. The intellectual property mafia needs large providers who are willing to shut down peer-to-peer filesharing software like BitTorrent. Only the guys in the room where such a deal would have been cut would know for certain, but it’s a plausible hypothesis. And one the FCC should investigate.