Western Digital made waves yesterday when someone noticed that the “Access Anywhere” software that comes with the company’s NAS drives does not allow you to share audio or video files over the network. A lot of people were left scratching their heads and wondering what the point was of having a NAS drive that can’t share media.
Of course, as always, the name is important, after all it’s called “Access Anywhere,” not “Access Anything.”
Comcast continues its double speak and carefully crafted workings regarding the company’s policy of throttling BitTorrent traffic, but already the lawyers are beginning to circle and Comcast could face lawsuits in the very near future.
CNet’s Chris Soghoian reports that because Comcast’s filtering technique uses forged TCP reset packets to disrupt traffic it is essentially impersonating its customers. The forged headers allow Comcast to say it doesn’t block traffic — it doesn’t, the traffic continues to flow, it just gets altered into forged packets that constantly reset the peer connections.
But forging headers is hardly the “cutting edge technology,” Comcast claims it is and it may well be illegal. Assuming your identity and forging packets is roughly the same thing your friendly Nigerian e-mail scammer does to infiltrate your e-mail inbox.
As we’ve mentioned before, Comcast does, despite what the company says, limit BitTorrent traffic. The Associated Press recently ran some tests and discovered that, yes, Comcast does throttle BitTorrent traffic. So how can Comcast say it doesn’t throttle traffic when in fact it does? The answer is in semantics.
Comcast has previous told Wired News that “we do not block access to any applications,” it does however admit that it uses traffic shaping tools to “manage our network to provide a quality experience for all Comcast subscribers.” In other words, Comcast doesn’t block BitTorrent applications, but it does block BitTorrent traffic.
Now it would seem that the fun doesn’t end there for Comcast subscribers. The EFF reports that Comcast also limits Gnutella traffic and Kevin Kanarski claims that Lotus Notes traffic is similarly choked.
[Update: Charlie Douglas, the Comcast spokesperson cited below, contacted Wired News to say that figures given in the GameDaily story were meant only as examples and we have changed the headline to reflect that. Based on talking with Douglas and comments below, the limits for Comcast users appear to be considerably higher than our estimate. However, Comcast continues to say it does not have a hard and fast limit and "excessive use" could be well above, or, in some cases, below the cited figures. As you can see from reading the comments here and elsewhere, the bandwidth considered excessive, varies by location as well. Douglas also said that Comcast calls customers to inform them about excessive use, so if you haven't been called, there's no reason to worry.]
Comcast has revealed some details about its mysterious bandwidth limitations. Previously the company had only said that it would shut down customers who went over what the company considered average use. But given that the company doesn’t seem to have a definition of average use, it’s difficult to know whether you’re in danger of being shutdown.
GameDaily has managed to get a sort of definition out of Comcast, though the limits aren’t actual numbers. GameDaily quotes Charlie Douglas, a spokesperson for Comcast Corporation, who says that Comcast’s definition of “excessive use” is any customer who “downloads the equivalent of 30,000 songs, 250,000 pictures or 13 million emails in a month.”
Obviously Comcast is avoiding the issue by failing to give an actual figure, but this statement does give a ballpark estimate. The standard assumption in the industry seems to be that a song is 3 MB, or at least most MP3 manufacturers seem to use that figure when they talk about storage capacity.
As Consumer Affairs notes, Comcast states in its acceptable use policy that the company reserves the right to suspend the broadband internet service of any user generating "levels of traffic sufficient to impede others’ ability to send or retrieve information." However, that’s as specific as Comcast gets. The company basically draws an invisible line in the sand, and if you cross it, you could be suspended for up to 12 months.
The reason there’s no hard limit is because "too much" bandwidth isn’t a constant. The measurement changes based on the infrastructure limitations of your particular locale, what are your neighbors are doing, and how steady and consistent your high usage periods are.