Dear Comcast, Here’s The Million Dollar Question: Is You Is, Or Is You Ain’t Blocking My Torrents?

Dear Comcast,

I like your commercials. They’re funny. You poke at DSL, and rightfully so – your service is significantly superior to anything but fiber to the home.

Here’s the million dollar question: Is you is, or is you ain’t blocking my torrents?

Prior to reading the article by TorrentFreak on Comcast BitTorrent filtering, I had noticed a significant decrease in my seeding ability. I thought it might have something to do with my Linux firewall that I had changed from IPCop to Smoothwall that same week, so I paid little attention.

Thankfully, downloading files worked fine, and uploading wasn’t a major problem since all of the torrents I download are Linux distros or otherwise Linux-related. And since I moved to Linux one significant change has happened: I haven’t felt any need to pirate software, so there’s no need for me to upload since I’m not using any trackers that require a positive ratio.

Not that I’m a leech, it’s just if I can’t upload because my ISP filters me, well what am I supposed to do?

This morning I got a wild hair up my ass and tried to download the Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon 7.10 torrent. I left all encryption off and made sure all my ports were forwarded properly. I opened up Azureus and the file downloaded without complaint in a whopping 15 minutes. Comcast is really fast here, something around 15x faster than DSL, no kidding.

After it downloaded, I went to work. When I came home about 8 hours later, my upload ratio was 0.04 to 1.

You read that right. Out of 2000+ leechers who wanted to download Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon, I uploaded a grand total of 28 megabytes. I’m glad that I’m not using any private trackers anymore, because I would be royally screwed.

The problem is, I’m still upset. What more could I do? Switch ISPs? Almost out of the question. In my area there is no fiber to the home because … drum roll please … Comcast and Qwest have members on the city council.

You can’t compare 25Mbps to 1.5Mbps – that’s worlds apart. I figure Comcast will eventually cave in and fix the problem, but who knows for how long?

I decided to contact the devil themselves, Comcast, and see what the fuss is about filtering torrents. The green text is me, the blue text is Comcast, and my comments after the fact are indented.

Wayne> Are BitTorrent downloads blocked?

Harry > Hello Wayne, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Harry. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Wayne> Sure thing.

Harry > They are slow maybe depending on gerneral internet conditions

Wayne> I started a download this morning, it’s a Linux distribution torrent.

Harry > OK

Wayne> This torrent has over 2300 seeds, as well as over 2000 peers.

Harry > We do not directly support this issue here but may comment that the speeds for that are dependant on many facotrs on the general internet

Harry > There may be leaching issues and ratio issues with your program

Wayne> What I find strange is that after the file finished downloading, my upload speed went to basically zero.

Harry > There number of prabable causes are too nummerous to support here

Harry > I then advised a system reset as follows:

Harry > Unplug the power cord from the cable modem to the wall outlet and the cable modem lights should go out. Then shut down your computer there. Now let 2 minutes pass by , and then plug in your cable modem there again. When the modem lights are on steady then restart your computer there. This will re establish your network connection .

Nice canned answer… WRONG ANSWER!

Harry > This may be due to many many things

Wayne> Well I think we both know the cause of this Harry.

Wayne> Have you read the AP story on this?

Wayne> http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gxRiQSVfgK4sLbVRE_X4MOlM9q0A

Harry > Checking

Wayne> K.

Harry > I will notify the network of any response to that to include in a general network advisroy to see what the situation is

Harry > Please feel free to check back anytime News to me !

Really? This is news to you? Must not get out much.

Wayne> So is the Associated Press lying, or are you blocking torrent traffic?

Wayne> Because I have been seeding this Linux torrent for 8 hours. My ratio is 0.04 to 1.

Harry > I do not know As I say I have sent a notfication to get a response here on this so we may better inform the subscribers in the future

Harry > I have no additional comments on something I do not know

Wayne> There is not a problem with my computer. If I take it my laptop to the coffee shop, it works fine.

Wayne> When I come home to use Comcast, it doesn’t work.

Wayne> I’m wondering who can help me fix it.

Harry > Be sure to check that the computer settings are correct when attatched to the Comcast network once again at the link below:

Harry > http://www.comcast.net/help/faq/index.jsp?faq=Connectiontop17638

Wayne> I’ll take a look, hold on.

Wayne> There is a problem.

Wayne> I don’t use Windows. I run Linux on my PC.

The instructions he sent me are for Windows NT, 2000, XP and Vista. No ME love you long time?

Harry > You may however we do not support that here

Wayne> But I am highly familiar with internet configuration on any operating system… my computer is configured properly.

Harry > I apologize for the inconvenience that this is causing you

Wayne> If I said that this makes me want to quit using Comcast, what would you say?

Harry > Feel fre to check back to see if there are any postings here about the link you forwarded I have sent it for reply to the network

In english, please?

Harry > Is there anything else I may help you with today?

Wayne> I’ve got a choice to make, either I can keep using Comcast and not be able to use the internet the way I want, or I can switch to another provider.

Wayne> Yes.

Wayne> I’m not making this up.

Wayne> Would you agree that a 0.04 to 1 ratio after seeding for 8 hours is really bad?

Harry > Check back then to see if we may get a response on this question form you in the future as I have sent it to the network for a response

Wayne> I’m looking at an article that says that you don’t filter BitTorrent.

Wayne> http://www.comcast.com/customers/faq/FaqDetails.ashx?ID=4390

Minutes pass.

Harry > I have no comment as I use tis at home and have seen all kinds of results I will wait for a comcast psition on this matter They are the ones to inform us here on this and relay it to you

Wayne> Do you block access to peer-to-peer applications like BitTorrent?

No. We do not block access to any Web site or applications, including BitTorrent. Our customers use the Internet for downloading and uploading files, watching movies and videos, streaming music, sharing digital photos, accessing numerous peer-to-peer sites, VOIP applications like Vonage, and thousands of other applications online.

Wayne> I use it at home too!

Harry > we do not block access to those peer to peer sites to my knowledge As I say I am getting a definitive reply from Comcast on this issue for any sunscribers

I’m glad I’m not one of those sunscribers using Nutscrape

Harry > The query was sent tonight by me on this chat

Harry > We will be waiting for a reply frm the network on this

Wayne> About how long can I expect a reply?

Harry > It ususally takes us two days of so for replies to specific issues not posted so far

Wayne> How will I be contacted?

Harry > You may check back anytime with reference to the following:

5 minutes pass.

Wayne> Nobody seems to want to help me with fixing this problem, or even say ANYTHING that could be taken as an acknowledgment that anything is wrong.

Harry > Found it..

Wayne> K

Harry > Your reference is CR105648994

Wayne> It’s like I’m talking to a brick wall… am I dreaming, or is there something going on between my computer and comcast?

Wayne> Is there anybody that I can escalate to and receive an answer on this faster?

Harry > No this is the quickest way Again I apologize for the inconvenience

Wayne> Can I cancel my account online?

Harry > Yo may do so at 1 800 COMCAST

Harry > Is there anything else I may help you with at this time?

Wayne> Previously in a chat I’ve been able to get Level 2 support engaged, I’d like to talk to someone who can acknowledge there is a problem.

Harry > It has been escalated

Harry > TYhey will do no more Just saving you time

I’ll just make a point here for anyone that works in customer service – if someone EVER asks to escalate, they don’t want to hear that line.

Wayne> So before I said something about this, you had never heard about it?

There’s the setup…

Harry > I have not

And we have a winner!

Wayne> Then perhaps level 2 support would be better equipped to handle my issue.

ZING!

Harry > Let me check here for you OK?

Wayne> Alright, I’ll hold on.

Harry > I will be right back

Wayne> Please take your time.

He really takes his time – I can’t blame him – I asked him to, almost 5 minutes pass.

Harry > I am working on this

Another 5 minutes pass, so I decide to take a further look into the article he sent. It was almost as useful as him asking me to reboot my cable modem and PC.

Wayne> I’ve looked through your link you provided earlier, that FAQ on “How do I configure my Comcast High-Speed Internet Windows connection settings?” – I can confirm that computer is configured properly for DHCP, and my TCP/IP settings are correct.

Harry > OK

Harry > I am transferring you now OK?

Wayne> Alright, thanks Harry.

Harry > Please hold and Thank You for contacting Comcast

Harry > Please wait, while the problem is escalated to another analyst

Shaun > One moment while I look over the chat logs.

Wayne> Take your time Shaun… there’s a lot of info.

Shaun > Unfortunately there really isn’t much else to add from what has been mentioned in the chat. As per our website comcast does not block P2P usage, although delaying traffic could be possible if this has been admitted on other websites. Considering most P2P usage is for aquiring illegal material, there is no harm in any possible traffic delaying. Any legit files that might be available on P2P software is usually available for standard download on the appropriate websites also.

Wayne> Whether or not legal files are available by other means is irrelevant.

Wayne> As far as I can tell, when I run BitTorrent, the connections are being blocked.

Wayne> not delayed.

Wayne> When I seed a torrent for 8 hours, and I come home to see a 0.04 to 1 ratio – would that indicate to you that it is blocked? Or is it simply delayed infinitely?

Shaun > It might not be allowing connections due to router / firewall software settings. Unfortunately we provide no support for P2P issues since as I mentioned it is mainly used for illegal distribution of files & any legit file can normally be found from a related website anyways.

Wayne> So what you’re saying is your routers and firewalls are blocking BitTorrent traffic?

Shaun > Your router / firewall settings if you use such items.

This is where I almost slip. I typed in something to the effect of, “I have checked iptables and found no discrepancies.” Fortunately, I’ve learned that you NEVER EVER EVER mention that you have a router (heaven forbid one running Linux) on your network, or else when they can’t fix a problem, they will insist over and over again that it’s the router causing the problem.

Wayne> My computer is configured properly.

Shaun > Could be the primary port number you are running off of for the software

Wayne> Did Harry get me to level 2 support?

Shaun > You are speaking to the department supervisor.

Big shot supervisor, wasn’t expecting someone so experienced.

Wayne> Ah, ok.

Shaun > We only have 1 level of chat support.

Wayne> Excellent. Did you see the AP article?

Wayne> It details exactly what I see happening to my computer.

Shaun > P2P related issues are not supported or handled by comcast unfortunately. I looked over that article and it states in it that comcast does not block traffic.

I’m not quite sure he read the article, but I ignore it for now.

Wayne> On the surface this looks like a P2P issue that would be unsupported, but in reality it’s a Comcast issue.

Wayne> If Comcast filtered all p2p traffic, there would be a huge uproar.

Shaun > Not really since the comcast is owned & managed by comcast, and thus are able to re-allocate traffic in however means they wish.

And customers can unsubscribe in droves, if they wish.

By the way Shaun, even though you might not be in the company 401k plan, so I don’t expect you to know this, but Comcast is a publicly traded company. Everyone who owns a share of their stock owns the company.

Wayne> Since Comcast is only filtering BitTorrent seeding, it gets no attention.

Shaun > It even states on the article “Applications like BitTorrent and Gnutella are often used to illegally share copyrighted files”

Wayne> I agree Shaun, I can agree that illegal files are downloaded via BitTorrent and Gnutella.

Wayne> But in the same vein, binary newsgroups, email, ftp, etc… those can be used in a wrong manner also

Wayne> You might as well turn off http altogether if your argument is that often times it’s used for illegal content.

Shaun > If comcast is actually delaying P2P traffic to help deter illegal activities, I would think of that as a good thing. P2P was initially created for the sole purpose of illegal file distribution once napster was sued.

Wayne> That’s a bit incorrect, P2P was around way before Napster got sued.

Wayne> Here’s my point. I want to know if you can help me or tell me when I’ll get a call or email, or some sort of contact from someone who can help me fix this.

Wayne> Arguing about why most people use p2p is totally irrelevant. I use it to download Linux, which is 100% legit.

Wayne> A few months ago, before I started seeing this problem, there was never any slow downs when browsing the web that I could see – I’ve been getting terrific service for many years now.

Shaun > There is nothing to help with unfortunately based on the fact that P2P is primarily used for illegal file distribution. If you are able to download your files but not upload them, I would be happy that you managed to get what you are looking for. Any “legit” files people try getting over P2P are obtainable through websites etc. Linux for sure is obtainable from a multitude of websites that host linux distributions such as http://www.madtux.org/ if I recall correctly.

Wayne> I know of one Linux distribution that is only available via BitTorrent.

I realize this comment about isn’t entirely true. You can get it from a mirror that requires some crazy ass combination of clicking through 20 pages with adverts all over them, and dealing with about 40 popups and popunders… bleh.

Wayne> It’s called Gebuntu.

Wayne> It’s a smaller distribution that is not super popular, so it’s not on any mirrors.

Wayne> And lots of material on BitTorrent.com is only available through them.

Shaun > You might want to bring up that distro with these linux websites that state they most available distros so they can add it to their list. If someone decides to only use bit-torrent to distribute legit stuff they are probably only hurting themselves in regards to making that software widely known.

He makes a good point here, but …

Wayne> You keep steering this off into another direction… one that really doesn’t merit any discussion.

Wayne> It’s a problem that I can’t fix from my end.

Wayne> I need it fixed on yours.

Shaun > Unfortunately until the P2P software producers happen to find a way to block illegal content from being available through their product, I’m sure comcast and alot of other providers will continue to find ways to help deter such software from being used in the manner that the majority of people use it for.

Illegal, illegal, illegal, I’ve mentioned that I’m not downloading anything illegal already – I think this supervisor has some sort of Comcast brain filtering going on, because “delayed” would be a good adjective of how quickly he’s picking up on what I’m saying.

Wayne> Can you send a ticket somewhere to get me unblocked?

This question never gets answered, unfortunately.

Shaun > As you mentioned you were able to download what you wanted.

Wayne> Gebuntu?

Wayne> What I talked about first was an experiment to determine if there was a problem.

This is the good stuff, we finally get something useful, if you can decipher it.

Shaun > We will not be lifting any traffic allocation delays which might be setup on the network currently. You mentioned you were able to download from other sources without issues, so if you are having issues with seeding then those people wanting the files can get the items from the other seeds available on the P2P network. Even if you were having issues with getting stuff over P2P, unfortunately it’s nothing that we will probably be reversing in the near future.

What Shaun really meant to say was the following:

“We will continue to “delay” BitTorrent, that’s the way it is. You got your file, what do you care, unless you were downloading something illegal? Even if you are having a problem which we caused but wont ever acknowledge, you wont ever be a happy customer because we wont ever address it until we get too much bad press.”

Wayne> Like when I was talking to Harry, it’s like talking to someone with the personality of a pet rock. Would you agree with me that there is something funny going on that’s blocking me?

Shaun > Comcast is able to do whatever they wish on their network. If there is traffic allocations setup to deter people from seeding within our network, then that is something which we can do on our network. Those people who are looking for such files can get them from other seeders anyways outside out network, where available

Wayne> I worked for an ISP about 10 years ago, and when customers asked me a straight question, I gave them a straight answer.

Wayne> Is you is, or is you ain’t blocking my torrents?

I hope at least some of the readers get the reference.

Shaun > As stated on the article, comcast does not block any internet traffic.

Wayne> Maybe you read the PR dribble part… the interesting bit is a little later: “Characterizing that as delaying traffic I think is … a stretch. What they are doing is spoofing traffic or jamming traffic,” Eckersley said.

Wayne> “I think they are trying to create as much confusion about this story as they can because they’ve done something really scurrilous and out of line for an ISP, and I’m sure they’ve been burned by the community’s reaction to it,” he added.

The word of the day is scur·ril·ous. Definition: grossly or obscenely abusive.

Shaun > As you mentioned you are still able to download whatever files you wish without issues. If our traffic allocation is not setup for inbound P2P at this time then at least you can still get the files you want from the P2P network.

Shaun > Either way, it is not something we will be most likely changing anytime in the near future.

Wayne> When?

Shaun > What will most likely happen next is allocation / delayment of inbound P2P traffic depending on how well our network bandwidth levels are through the various regions.

Shaun > Considering the allocation hasn’t been setup on inbound yet, I would be happy to not have any downloading delays over the P2P network. If there are multitudes of seeds available across the internet for the items anyways, the other downloaders can get the items from those seeds if their connections to comcast seeders become delayed too much for them.

Wayne> I wish we could have a conference chat with an ISP here in Utah called XMission, they’re up front, honest, and most importantly they don’t lie, deceive, and argue around and around in circles about what is actually going on.

I walked away from the computer at this point… 1.5 hours of chat which isn’t very exciting and certainly not going anywhere, I’m done at this point.

Shaun > Having someone from another ISP in the chatroom wouldn’t make any difference to the comcast network or how it is ran by comcast.

Shaun > If corporate decides to re-do the network traffic allocation sometime in the future (for better or worse in regards to P2P) then at that time the allocation will be modified. Until then it will be left as is. We both know that the majority of P2P users do not use it for legit purposes and that is what comcast is probably helping to counteract.

Shaun > Is there something else non p2p related that we may be of assistance with?

Shaun > Again, since you are able to download from P2P that means you can at least get the items you want still. There really is no difference to the other users if they happen to use you as a seed or someone in another city. Either way those people will get their files still. If there is nothing else, then thank you for contacting Comcast.

Shaun > Analyst has closed chat and left the room

Sure enough, when I came back, chat was closed. I could have gone on further, but it is frustrating to argue in circles and accomplish absolutely NOTHING other than waste my time… So I figured I should probably post it up here for you folks to enjoy.

I can’t really write better content than the two blokes anyways, so why not… *publish*

Edit:  You may want to take a look at my other article detailing how to avoid the Comcast throttling here, and also you will probably want to read the follow up article with some interesting information directly from Comcast.