Comcast has settled a class-action lawsuit regarding the company’s 2007/2008 P2P throttling practices (#3 on our top 10 tech failures in 2008) to the tune of $16 million dollars. The Internet service provider maintains its claim that it did nothing wrong and that its methods were legitimate, but chose to settle in order to avoid a lengthy trial.
In late 2007 it was discovered that Comcast was actively employing a technology that caused established links between BitTorrent and Gnutella peers to transparently reset. The clandestine technology caused Comcast customers to unwittingly send forged reset packets to established peers which would effectively end the connection as though the link had been naturally interrupted.
Statements released throughout 2008 did little to lower the hackles of consumers, consumer rights activists and lawmakers who were all incensed by Comcast’s audacity. In early January of 2008, the issue began to take legal form as the FCC called a hearing on network neutrality to order. It certainly didn’t help Comcast’s case or image when they filled the room with paid fanboys loyal to their cause.
By July of 2008, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had had enough of Comcast’s shenanigans and vowed to end the Philadelphia’s ISP use of the forged reset packets. At the conclusion of Martin’s crusade, new life was breathed into net neutrality with the bi-partisan signing of a new enforcement order.
The new order legally obliged Comcast to cease and desist in further traffic manipulation and forced them to disclose the methods they used to manipulate internet traffic. While not a law, it was a relieving precedent in the ongoing war over net neutrality.
During the hearing, Martin likened the manipulation of web traffic to the manipulation of traditional mail.
“Would you be OK with the post office opening your mail, deciding they didn’t want to bother delivering it, and hiding that fact by sending it back to you stamped ‘address unknown – return to sender?’” he said.
“Or if they opened letters mailed to you, decided that because the mail truck is full sometimes, letters to you could wait, and then hid both that they read your letters and delayed them?” he continued.
This decision sent a clear warning to other US ISPs considering illegitimate manipulation of American — and to a lesser extent, global — web traffic. Hands off.
While Comcast and other US ISPs are back to managing the pulse of traffic on their corners of the information superhighway, they take a protocol-agnostic approach which narrows bandwidth of a high-use user until congestion is relieved.
Several class-action lawsuits have since come against Comcast for the practice, many which allege that Comcast violated its own terms of service by promising a faster connection than what they were actually providing. Unfortunately, with the high cost of lawyers’ fees and the number of complainants in the case, those that file for a piece of the $16 million dollar pie will get a measly slice of just $16.