Germany’s Max Planck Institute has recently done testing that illustrates practices that cable Internet users have suspected for some time now — major US Cable ISPs, Comcast and Cox, are blocking peer-to-peer network patterns.
The Institute, spurred on by a CNET report showing that Comcast defended its blocking of BitTorrent P2P traffic to the FCC “as a necessary practice that is done only during periods of heavy network traffic.”
Using the well-documented diurnal pattern of most P2P network (meaning it is more active in the daytime than nighttime) the study’s tests were instead done during the evening and morning hours. The Institute wanted “to see if hosts in Comcast and Cox networks see fewer of their upstream transfers blocked during early morning or weekends (when network load is generally low) than during other times of the day.”
The study found that the cable companies lied about their regulation practices of their networks, blocking traffic no matter what time of day.
The Max Planck Institute conducted the testing between March 18 and May 15 from 8,175 unique hosts that ran its specific BitTorrent tests. Participating hosts were in 90 countries, connected through 1,224 ISPs, and ran the Glasnost testing tool. The only locations where cable ISPs blocked BitTorrent traffic to a significant extent were in the United States, with Comcast and Cox the guilty parties, along with Singapore’s Starhub.
Comcast had blocked 30-80 percent of BitTorrent uploads. Cox blocked 20-100 percent of BitTorrent uploads, except for one period at 3 a.m. where one request wasn’t blocked.
The Institutes’s report notes that “ISPs may throttle (rate-limit) BitTorrent traffic without blocking it. The results we present here are limited to hosts whose BitTorrent transfers to our servers are blocked, i.e., interrupted by RST [Reset] packets generated … along the path.”
The report also noted that only upstreams were completely severed and downloads were largely untouched. While cable ISPs were actively shutting down the upstream connections, DSL hosts were largely unaffected.
“P2P traffic doesn’t necessarily follow normal traffic flows,” Comcast said responding to the report. “[Comcast is] now working with a variety of companies including BitTorrent [to] move to a protocol-agnostic network management technique.”
The backlash has already begun. Organizations like The Open Internet Coalition have beefed up calls for so-called “network neutrality” legislation that would prohibit service providers from blocking any Internet traffic or favoring certain types of content over others.
Net Neutrality is shaping up to be one of the biggest battles of the Internet age. The problem is that many consumers are largely apathetic to what’s going on (or not) in the background.