There are those still clinging to the desperate hope that somehow critics of Comcast’s “network management” policy of “delaying” BitTorrent packets “only during peak congestion periods” will be discredited. These folks have therefore wasted much time and energy calling those of us who filed the Comcast complaint all manner of nasty names, made sneering and condescending comments about Robert Topolski’s qualifications and the accuracy of his tests, and generally behaved like total obnoxious gits. So you will forgive me if I once again channel my “inner Cartman” and provide these folks with some bad news.
The Max Planck Institute for Software Development (MPI) has just released major study showing that Comcast and Cox Cable engage in major blocking of BitTorrent traffic regardless of network congestion levels, Robert Topolski and Jon Peha are right, and George Ou needs to shut the [bleep] up with his pathetic whining. Oh yes, and Ou also needs to get over his belief expressed at the Stanford FCC hearing that the reset packets could be coming from some mysterious source other than Comcast. Unless George is going to express a belief in the “reset packet faerie,” who sprinkles forged reset packets over good little networks to keep them safe from bandwidth hogs (which explains why this constant “leakage” only happens to Comcast and Cox), it’s time to face the reality that Comcast (and apparently Cox as well) really are using forged reset packets, deliberately, and all the time, just like we said they were.
Knowing, however, that folks like Ou (and paid flacks such as my friend and sparing partner Scott Cleland) are as incapable of admitting error as a certain Decider-In-Chief, I eagerly await the whacky weasel words that will inevitably follow. Will it be hand-waving technobabble? Ad Hominem attacks, cheap rhetorical tricks, and endless hair-splitting about definitions or ‘what I actually said was blah blah blah’? An effort to brush past this by proclaiming “this was never really about whether there were WMBs (weapons of mass BitTorrent blockage), this was about freeing the good customers of Comcast from the oppression of Al Qeda bandwidth hogs that use 90% of the capacity?” Another “expert study” that tries to cast doubt on Max Planck Institute (MPI) study? Or perhaps some delightful combination of all of these? The heat will be on!
A bit more analysis and a lot more snarkiness below . . . .
The rather prestigious, internationally renown, and extremely well qualified Max Planck Institute for Software Development has just released a devastating study of BitTorrent blocking via reset packets (the method identified by Topolski as that used by Comcast). The Institute also releases an open source tool so that individuals can test for themselves, replicate the results, and evaluate the study and methodology overall.
The conclusion? BitTorrent blocking via reset packets is only practiced on a measurable scale by three ISPs in the entire world! Those three ISPs are (drum roll puhlee-aze…):
The study notes that no DSL providers engage in this practice, probably because their networks are not as crappy as cable networks. No doubt Verizon and AT&T are quietly gloating and sending emails to Vuze demanding an apology.
The study also found that blocking rates remained high and reasonably constant despite the time of day. This certainly refutes the oft-repeated claim by Comcast that they only “occasionally delay” BitTorrent uploads during periods of “peak congestion.” It is simply the consistent policy of these three cable broadband providers (and no one else) to block/degrade (excuse me, “delay”) BitTorrent traffic in this fashion. (To be fair, I suppose Comcast and Cox could have such crappy broadband networks that they are always suffering “peak capacity,” but that is not what we usually mean by “peak”).
Let me stress that this does not effect the debate about policy, i.e., whether it is a good idea to allow ISPs to do this (I think no), or whether the Federal government (either through the FCC or in some other way) should make the a rule about this (I think yes). Folks have advanced numerous policy reasons why trying to prevent behavior like this is a bad idea that does more harm than good, and these policy arguments stand or fall on their merits. But the MPI study should definitively end the debate about whether blocking BitTorrent traffic through the use of forged reset packets is happening (it is), whether this practice is widely accepted in the Internet community as a “reasonable network management” technique (it’s not — score one for Jon Peha) and whether the practice is really limited to times of peak congestion (it’s not).
Of course, when I say “should,” I mean: “should in a rational world where people care about evidence and stuff and do not reject studies by highly reputable institutions with no obvious ax to grind without some kind of evidence to back up their objections.” As we all know, we do not live in such a world. And in DC policy-land, where people are paid big bucks to be obstinate pricks impervious to reason, the notion that some silly real world study by neutral experts should even be seriously considered as “evidence” is frequently greeted with either condescending chuckles or the sort of explosive outrage usually displayed by B Movie villains advised by their henchman that the hero has once again miraculously survived the overly complex death trap.
So I expect the good folks at Comcast, their paid flacks, and their pack ‘o useful idiots to start cranking up the old noise machine. We can anticipate the following lines of attack:
1) Ignore the inconsistencies with the previous statements with broad statements and an effort to blow by the whole thing. e.g., “What really matters here is that Comcast is doing its best to protect its customers from bandwidth hogs, and is working with other companies to find ways to minimize any intrusion with the legitimate uses of the network.”
2) Ad Homminem attacks and attempts to undermine credibility. Happily, there is no obligation for these attacks to be credible, or even coherent. The point is simply to generate enough noise so that people unfamiliar with the issue will decide there must be something wrong with the other side, and to hopefully goad the opposition into wasting time in a mud-wrestling match they should ignore. e.g., “Max Planck was a physicist. It is obvious that an institute named for a physicist could not possibly have the computer science expertise to do these experiments. Furthermore, Germany has every incentive to try to mess up our capitalist system — don’t think they’ve forgotten WWII! — and therefore the data of this so called ”institute“ should be regarded as highly suspect and a socialist plot. Especially because anti-business groups that give support to Al Qeda, like Free Press and Moveon, obviously were involved somehow in a way I can’t prove but will continue to assert until you believe me.”
3) Blame it all on Kevin Martin and his “vendetta” against cable. Perhaps some of Comcast’s pet Republicans in Congress will write another letter! Given that a lot of them are likely to be looking for work next year, showing Comcast (and the rest of the cable industry) that you stay bought no matter what the evidence could be a real career booster.
4) Expert “studies”, hair splitting and other technobabble. A tried and true method that relies on the public’s short attention span, general inability to understand technology, and inability to actually assess the validity of most studies. This is, after all, why industry folks invest so much money in maintaining coin operated think tanks. Churn out a study or two that looks impressive and has an executive summary making ludicrous claims, get into arguments about what specific statements ‘really’ meant and try to bog things down in endless debates over minutiae, and have an expert or two babble something reassuring that makes no sense, and the worries of willing believers will be soothed and members of the public approaching this for the first time will feel their eyes glazing over. (Remember, if you are a megacorp, you do not need to convince the public you are right, you only have to convince them to go away.)
In any event, I look forward to the upcoming fun and games. It is always a pleasure to watch skilled professionals at work, and Comcast and the cable industry hire some of the smartest and talented folks I know.
Stay tuned . . . .