While Comcast is the poster boy — and the whipping boy in Congress and at the FCC — for this behavior it is merely the first company to have been caught with its hand in the cookie jar. It also came in for more than its share of attention because it had the poor grace to first deny it altogether and then to claim that what it was doing was not "blocking" traffic but merely delaying it with the intent of managing traffic in order to improve the experience of its customers. The trouble is that, unknowable intent aside, what Comcast and Cox in the US and Starhub in Singapore are doing is clearly and obviously denial of service—blocking—of a perfectly legal file transfer protocol. (The first time Comcast was caught interferring the file being transfered was the King James version of the Bible!) These companies are using their control of the routers over which you send messages to another net user to dip into the flow of bits between two people and alter that stream to indicate to both sides that the other side has dropped the connection. They lie to both ends. The inevitable and intended result is that after a few retries the two pieces of software drop the connection because the cable company has successfully used its control of the network to convince the users that the other side has hung up. The critical terminology, should you care to google it is: "forged TCP/IP packets with the RST (reset) flag set" or some such...
An analogy from elsewhere in the telecommunications world that illustrates what is wrong with this sort of deceptive practice: The phone company does not send the caller a ring that never gets picked up when their network gets congested. They forthrightly tell you that all their circuits are busy and that you should call back later. They don't lie and tell you the other person is busy. The phone companies are owning their problem. In contrast the cablecos are lying to you and telling you that they don't have a problem--the person you want to talk to has gone offline.
Comcast continues to deny that this is blocking but the raw fact of the deception necessarily involved has lead to a renewed interest in Net Neutrality by Congress and a series of very uncomfortable investigatory hearings by the FCC.
The immediate response of the net media to this latest study has been to react with surprise that Cox is also included. That's just because they've not been paying close attention—as readers of this space will know. In fact the fellow that exposed Comcast quickly made the same accusation against Cox whose non-denial defense slipped under the radar in uproar surrounding Comcast's mishandling of the issue.
The meaningful bits from the AP story:
A study released Thursday found conclusive signs that file-sharing attempts by subscribers of Cox Communications were blocked, along with customers at Singapore's StarHub....What should be at the top the news is that substance of the report: and
The percentage of blocked connections for Comcast and Cox subscribers did not appear to correspond to periods of high congestion, despite Comcast's assertions to the FCC that the filtering only happens at certain times. Subscribers were roughly equally likely to be blocked at all times of day and night. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told Congress in April that testimony collected by the agency indicated that Comcast's filter was active even when there was no congestion.
- the interference is undeniably occurring
- It is NOT normal practice and it can only be reliably show for a very few cable companies worldwide.
- It is NOT being used to decongest the network in any systematic way. (Network congestion is very predictable and occurs in 24 hour cycles. If this technique were honestly being used to limit congestion you'd see increasing percentages of blockage during periods of high usage like when the kids get home from school or early evening. There is no such pattern in the data.)
I wonder if Cox will do the same?
If you'd like to know if your connection is being lied to you can run the Max Planck test on your own connection; just click on over. Try a couple of times. Cox's is apparently blocked about half the time, for instance, so you'll need to run multiple tests to see if your local network is one that is being "managed." PS: When I tried it was busy...and told me it was too busy. At least they're honest about it. ;-) I'll try again later.