Comcast “actively interferes” with attempts by some high-speed Internet subscribers to share files using the BitTorrent application, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The AP called its findings “the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider.” The report noted that Comcast is within legal rights to manage and monitor its own network.
However, the AP said, the practice of managing peer-to-peer bandwidth runs counter to the principle of “Net Neutrality,” which refers to proposed legislation that would make it illegal for Internet service providers to provide preferential treatment to individual customers.
The news organization said it attempted to share digital copies of the King James Bible from two computers in Philadelphia and San Francisco connected to Comcast cable modems using BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing application for accessing music and video content on the Internet.
The AP’s report said those copies were unavailable through the BitTorrent network, while a third PC connected to Comcast’s high-speed service in Boston did not appear to be blocking access to shared files. Also, according to AP, its tests over Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems networks did not indicate “signs of interference with file-sharing.”
The AP said its analysis indicated that the BitTorrent failures on the Comcast networks were the result of apparently faked "reset" packets – suggesting that Comcast was deliberately causing the file-sharing connections to fail, according to the news organization.
Asked for comment on the AP story, Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas said: “Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent. We have a responsibility to provide all of our customers with a good experience online and we use the latest technologies to manage our network.”
Douglas also said that using various techniques to manage bandwidth is “standard practice for [Internet service providers] and network operators all over the world. We rarely disclose our vendors or our processes for operating our network for competitive reasons and to protect against network abuse.”
BitTorrent is among the most widely used file-sharing programs on the Internet. These so-called peer-to-peer applications represent anywhere between 50% and 90% of all Internet traffic, according to bandwidth-management vendors. BitTorrent alone accounts for around 18% of broadband traffic, according to a report published last year by CableLabs and Clemson University researchers.
The vast majority of files shared on such peer-to-peer networks is assumed to be illegally shared copyrighted material like songs and movies. The BitTorrent application is maintained by a company by the same name, which earlier this year embarked on an effort to offer legitimately licensed content through an online storefront.