Comcast's "We Don't Throttle BitTorrent" Internal Talking Points Memo

A Comcast employee supplied The Consumerist with the following internal email sent out to all the customer service staff at the Maryland call center. It’s regarding recent reports that the cable company disrupts traffic between customers using the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol:

All,
You may get customers who are contacting us with regard to several articles which were published recently, accusing Comcast of blocking or otherwise filtering customers’ Internet traffic. An in-depth AP story suggests Comcast is hindering our customers’ ability to use BitTorrent, a peer to peer file sharing program. If a customer contacts us to inquire about this, please use the following talking points.

Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent

We respect our customers’ privacy and we don’t monitor specific customer activities on the Internet or track individual online behavior, such as which websites they visit. Therefore, we do not know whether any individual user is visiting BitTorrent or any other site…

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. This is standard practice for ISPs and network operators all over the world.

We rarely disclose our vendors or our processes for operating our network both for competitive reasons and to protect against network abuse.

If a customer asks:
I read that Comcast is limiting customer access to BitTorrent. Is this true?

Respond:
No. We do not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent. We also respect our customers’ privacy and don’t monitor specific customer activities on the Internet or track individual online behavior, such as which websites they visit. Therefore, we do not know whether any individual user is visiting BitTorrent or any other site.

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. This is standard practice for ISPs and network operators all over the world.

Are you working with Sandvine as these reports claim?

Respond:
We rarely disclose our vendors or our processes for operating our network both for competitive reasons and to protect against network abuse.

Please do not deviate from the responses above. If you have any questions about this issue, please reach out to Brian Becker, Gene Bridges or myself.

Thanx…
________________________________________
Michael S. Groman
Manager / IP Support
MD-DE-RCH Region

We guess it must have been a little devil or gremlin sabotaging the AP from transferring that Bible.

The insider tells us that employees were told not to say a word outside the pre-ordained script. Management said that anyone who otherwise discussed the issue would be terminated. A meeting was held last week to cover the issue as well.

Our source says, “It is definitely being covered under tight wraps. Why else would they go through with all this if they didn’t have anything to hide?”

UPDATE: Insider Tells Us There’s Proof Comcast Contracts BitTorrent Throttling To Sandvine

(Photo: cmorran123)

Comments

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  1. Geekybiker says:

    This is just a “no comment” script. They arent denying what the charges are.

  2. faust1200 says:

    Yeah when a CSR refers to them self as “insert your name” something is up.

  3. kenposan says:

    They are sidestepping the actual question. The question isn’t, “you are blocking BT”, but, “are you throttling”.

  4. NaughtyBitsGLiF says:

    Have to ask my friend about this…. Who so happens to work with Comcast

  5. goodkitty says:

    “Therefore, we do not know whether any individual user is visiting BitTorrent or any other site…and don’t monitor specific customer activities on the Internet or track individual online behavior”

    Well waitta minute… isn’t that a complete lie? I mean, if they don’t know anything about what you’re doing online, then how can they send a specific RST sequence to throttle your use?

  6. sample032 says:

    @kenposan: Not quite throttling, more like disrupting or man in the middle attacking.

    Nevertheless, you’re right, they sidestepped the accusation.

  7. JoeVet says:

    So who’s going to call and see if they follow the script?

  8. BrianH says:

    2 things:

    1) Notice how they say “we do not block…” that is different than saying “we have never blocked prior to now”

    2) They may be word-smithing when they say “block”… if I “block” you from passing, I literally stop you from passing. What they do (did?) is INTERFERE with BitTorrent traffic by injecting RESET packets, amongst other things.

    It would be wonderful to have them answer the direct question “Has Comcast ever in the past interfered with (throttled, etc…) BitTorrent traffic? Yes or no?”

    If they go into their “it’s our policy not to discuss…” spiel, you go, “OK, that’s a yes.” I’m pretty sure if you ask Time Warner, Verizon/FIOS, etc…. such a specific question, they’d answer it.

    I said in a previous comment in another story. Comcast: stop lying, stop covering up, stop circling the damn wagons. Seriously. Come clean, say why you did it, say why you regret it & won’t do it anymore, and call it good. Otherwise prepare for the wrath of the consumer, bastards!

  9. jem7 says:

    I have Comcast and they absolutely DO hose you down to about 16k a second when a bit torrent app is running. It’s not just bit torrent either, it’s the entire net connection. So no Xbox while downloading something, and every time I try to catch a missed episode of whatever TV program, everyone in the house groans. I’m going to dump comcast as soon as Verizon finishes fiber in the neighborhood.

    BTW, Comcast, the signs you put up all over the neighborhood saying “Comcast: We already have fiber!”, you can sit on that. It doesn’t help when you throttle my connection down to dial up speeds. Besides, I don’t care what fiber you have in your headend, you’re still running shitty coax to the house.

  10. TechnoDestructo says:

    The bottom JUST KEEPS DROPPING OUT with Comcast, son!

  11. Boberto says:

    They do this because they can.
    Patiently waiting for Wimax.

  12. TPK says:

    “If you have any questions about this issue, please reach out to…

    What is this, a long distance commercial from the 70s??

  13. bobbiac says:

    devil’s advocate here, but ….

    they are not blocking the app. They can’t. That would mean physically controlling the customer’s computer.

    They are blocking the PROTOCOL.

    Kodos to PR for the spindoctoring on this.

  14. Anjow says:

    Damn those greedy customers visiting BitTorrent all the time, ruining the service for others.

  15. asynja says:

    Just look at Sanvine’s own sales page for their “traffic management”:
    [www.sandvine.com]

    They’re flaunting it, folks.

  16. mantari says:

    Talking points are horrible in the hands of customer service reps, who don’t fully grasp the nuance of the statements that they’ve been handed. Example…

    Customer: Are you doing anything that would effectively slow down the transfer of files over my BitTorrent client?

    Customer Service Rep: [Only given two hammers, they find the closest matching of the two talking points... that would be #1, and answer with that. Even though question #1 was specially crafted for a limited set of circumstances.]

    WIN: Management gets to say that they didn’t tell employees to lie.
    WIN: Management gets to lie to customers.

    Good luck with getting the customer service reps not to deviate from these two badly fitting answers to any question that a customer may pose!

  17. Buckler says:

    I suppose it’s all well and good, as I’ve never “visited” BitTorrent. Used it, yes. But never “visited”.

  18. @Geekybiker: Yeah, once you get down to the nit and grit of things, that’s pretty much what it is for all Intents and Purposes.

  19. Zimorodok says:

    “Therefore, we do not know whether any individual user is visiting BitTorrent or any other site.”

    Referring to BitTorrent as a “site” smacks of either remarkable stupidity, or outright deception. It’s like referring to “Internet Explorer” as a site. Their actions in blocking P2P connections rule out ignorance, so all that’s left is deceptive intent.

  20. M3wThr33 says:

    They aren’t ‘throttiling’ or ‘blocking.’ You guys need to understand what they are doing.

    Throttling: Slow down connection speed
    Blocking: Prevent connection

    They’re doing neither. What Sandvine does, is it recognizes a consistent connection between two peers and sends a reset packet to BOTH peers.

    It’s not blocking or throttling. It’s sabotaging.

  21. salnajjar says:

    I think that people is misreading the Comcast statement, their “script” was obviously written with advice from their legal department.

    Take “Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent”. That statement is factually correct, Comcast is not “blocking” access to BitTorrent, but what they are doing is detecting Torrent signatures and reducing the speed of Torrent downloads to a driblle.

    Now take the line: “We respect our customers’ privacy and we don’t monitor specific customer activities on the Internet or track individual online behavior, such as which websites they visit. Therefore, we do not know whether any individual user is visiting BitTorrent or any other site…”. By using Sandvine they don’t have to monitor user activity, Sandvine automatically detects Torrent transfers and throttles them. Using this system they don’t have to “know whether any individual user is visiting BitTorrent” to implement the throttling.

    The one thing that is glaringly apparent from the canned statement is that it’s deliberately worded to steer the conversation away from “Is Comcast throttling Torrent downloads?” or “Is Comcast reducing the speed of customers torrent activities?”. What Comcast have done here is write a script that allows them to tell the truth without even saying a little white lie whilst avoiding the activity they are doing, “severely limiting the speed of Torrent activities on their network”.

  22. neverending says:

    If you want to bypass this, there are settings on most recent BitTorrent clients to enable “RC4 Transport Encryption” in the options. Do this, and Comcast won’t be able to identify your Internet traffic as originating from BitTorrent.

    My ISP in the UK does exactly the same trick with Bittorrent connections, and encryption works a treat.

  23. mantari says:

    Look even closer at the language. You can tell great lies by making truthful statements.

    Ambiguity: WHAT they are doing
    They’re hiding in ambiguity. Say that they say, “we don’t do any blocking”. Sure, you all have picked up on the ‘blocking’ part, potentially leaving the door open to all sorts of other things.

    Ambiguity: At WHAT LEVEL or WHERE they are doing it
    But the other silent accomplice in their lie is that they don’t say where or on what level they’re blocking. Yes, some people have pointed out the, “We don’t know if they’re visiting BitTorrent thing.”

    But when they say they’re not blocking, are they talking at the basic network transport layer? TCP/IP session layer? Application layer?

    HINT: They’re not blocking at the transport layer. They’re not necessarily blocking at the application layer. (Certainly, not directly.) But they ARE blocking at the session level when they send the RST packets.

    When they say they’re not throttling your throughput, that is also true at the basic network transport layer. That is also (somewhat) true at the TCP/IP session level. But it is absolutely untrue at the application level — your file transfers ARE being throttled and choked off.

    Misdirection: “specific customer activities”
    Look at some of the other language here…
    “[we] don’t monitor specific customer activities”

    That leaves the door open to monitoring general customer activities. (And blocking at a ‘general level’, which seems to be what they’re doing. They’re not blocking specific bittorrent trackers, or participants, after all.) They’ve played with the language of ‘general’ vs ‘specific’.

    Misdirection: More confusion of application vs protocol
    “We do not block access to any applications.” Sure, they’re not preventing your access to a bittorrent application. You are still able to open the application on your PC.

    Contradiction: talk about their responsibility
    “We have a responsibility to provide all of our customers with a good experience online.” What about BitTorrent users? And is ‘we’ Comcast, or is ‘we’ Comcast customer service? Who defines a ‘good experience’? What is the full nature of Comcast’s responsibility that they claim?

    Minimization and non-denial: AP article “suggests”
    “An in-depth AP story suggests Comcast is hindering our customers’ ability to use BitTorrent.” It is reduced to a ‘suggestion’. Yet after raising the suggestion, they don’t deny it. They just tell their reps how to position their carefully crafted response, which they may not deviate from. (That’s a narrow path they’ve got to sail.)

    Ambiguity: Vague pronoun reference
    “This is standard practice for ISPs and network operators all over the world.” The suggestion here is that Comcast is not doing anything unusual. But they’re actually referring to “[using] the latest technologies to manage our network”. Yeah. That’s pretty standard, but “This is standard practice” is meant to confuse.

    Non-denial and red-herring: Sandvine
    “We rarely disclose our vendors or our processes for operating our network both for competitive reasons and to protect against network abuse.” They don’t deny using Sandvine, but they raise the boogyman of “network abuse” to explain why they won’t say.

    In closing…
    Another great corporate memo that gives all the incorrect impressions that the company wants to give, while at some level, still telling the absolute truth. This is a classic example of a truthful PR lie.

    I’ve, again, written far too much on this, but I see even more details that I can tear into on this memo.

  24. jerkius says:

    i like how all you morons are up in arms about this. why are you using bittorrent? dont tell me its to download the latest linux iso. if you have a legitimate use for it, why dont you say so? all i see is a bunch of pirating idiots bitching because comcast is taking a stance against piracy. most, if not all, articles about p2p programs state that they are mostly (not completely) for illegal purposes: IE, downloading copyrighted material. so, if you have a legitimate use for p2p, why dont you say something

    oh thats right, you dont.

  25. realwx says:

    @jerkius: Who said anything about piracy?

  26. jerkius says:

    no one has to mention piracy. you know damn well p2p apps are primarily used for piracy. stop spinning the debate sir.

  27. PaidInFull says:

    @Jerkius: Not everything is about piracy. The issue is that users are paying for a connection and are not being allowed to use that connection how they see fit. It’s like your cell phone provider telling you that you can’t call certain people because there’s already too much traffic on the cell tower by your house. If you pay for a connection, (a service) then it is a providers obligation to make that service available to the customer, free of unknown alteration. If Comcast is against certain types of transmissions due to the possibility of piracy like you say, then they have an obligation to their paying customers to announce their intentions, so that people can effectively choose a proper provider. One of the main reasons that they are being so sneaky about this is that Comcast has oversold their bandwidth and is now trying to find underhanded ways to limit use without having to improve infrastructure. I pay for an 8Mb connection for a reason, and it’s not because I email all day. Comcast has an obligation to me as a paying customer to provide that bandwidth to use as I see fit or come clean with their practices.

  28. mdx392 says:

    While I may be in the minority about this, Jerkius made me think – and I can honestly say that the majority of my BT usage the past couple years has been perfectly legit – mainly for open source distros.

    Eat it, Jerk.

  29. PaidInFull says:

    Oh by the way, if you use encrypted transfers then comcast can’t tell what you’re sending and thus cannot block your traffic. Try it. Revenge is sweet.

  30. toomuchrock says:

    Comcast does monitor your torrents.

    They contacted me with a very nasty letter stating that if I continued to download the content (non pornographic movies) I was downloading, the would be forced to turn me over to the feds… literally. I thought this was against the constitution, but didn’t want to make a fuss and go to jail!

  31. mantari says:

    @jerkius: Actually, perhaps YOU need to stop spinning the debate. Do you think that Comcast is attacking BitTorrents because they got a sudden moral imperative to stamp out piracy on their network? Of course not. That’s silly.

    They’re attacking BitTorrents because BitTorrent users consume far more bandwidth (in both directions) than most all other users. Which ties the debate back into net neutrality.

  32. M3wThr33 says:

    World of Warcraft uses BitTorrent to download the patches and updates. I’d say the 10 million using that service qualify as MILLIONS of legit users.

  33. BugMeNot2 says:

    @toomuchrock:

    Nah, Comcast doesn’t monitor the content, they may monitor protocol & traffic type, they’d (the computer program) have to in order to filter it.

    For those cease and desist orders, the media companies contact Comcast w/ their evidence of date, time & IP along w/ whatever filename info. Then Comcast is obligated to send you a C&D order.

  34. BugMeNot2 says:

    Comcast is not throttling speeds, as some people are saying.
    Comcast is sending a forged packet to the other end of the line, claiming it was sent by their customer. Comcast also sends a forged packet to their customer, claiming it was sent by the party at other end of the connection.
    Comcast is not throttling here – they are TERMINATING the connections.
    Comcast may have tripped their toe across the legal line here. Specifically they may have violated the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act.
    TITLE 18, PART I, CHAPTER, 47, SECTION 1030, PARAGRAPH (a)(5)(A)(i) “knowingly causes the transmission of a program, information, code, or *COMMAND*, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage without authorization, to a protected computer”. And paragraph (e)(8) defines “the term ‘damage’ means any impairment to the integrity or *AVAILABILITY* of data, a program, a system, or information”.
    It is a borderline case, but Comcast may be in some seriously hot water here. Sending forged packets and claiming that they were sent by the Customer (or sent by anyone else) was a Seriously Dumb Idea.

  35. digginestdogg says:

    Many legitimate companies and organizations use BitTorrent for downloads including VMware (check out their VMware virtual machine download site), Luxology the makers of a 3D modeling package (they use it for tutorial video downloads that are usually very large being video). So many of us who use BitTorrent are not scoff-laws. It is Comcast who is wrong.

  36. Trackback says:

    We still can’t figure out why Comcast doesn’t just come right out and admit what it’s doing in jamming certain kinds of traffic. It’s not like it’s a secret any more — and the longer Comcast tries to play dumb on this, the worse it looks for the company.

  37. geekfather says:

    Hey Jerkus… World of Warcraft.

    Suck it, Comcast plant.

  38. Deluxe05 says:

    I would like to second Geekfather’s comment. World of Warcraft is obviously one of the most widespread applications which uses BitTorrent to distribute patches, content, etc. Given the sheer number of WoW subscribers, it stands to reason that they are taking a big freakin’ hammer to a lot of gamers’ WoW downloads. (I have experienced this first hand.)

    This is just one example. BitTorrent is attractively positioned to provide all manner of content delivery.

    If Comcast were smart, they would have leveraged the QoS abilities built into the DOCSIS specifications to limit subscriber bandwidth utilization. But, they “needed” to advertise that they had the biggest data pipe to each house and continued to increase the upstream & downstream limits well beyond what the cable plant could feasibly support. (Average is around 768Kbps up/6.6Mbps down.) Now they are trying to brute force bandwidth limitations through the use of 3rd party applications/hardware.

  39. Trackback says:

    Don’t always believe Washington’s conventional wisdom. Some pundits are so steeped in their own knowledge that they get stuck spinning their wheels when faced with evidence to the contrary.

  40. alfista says:

    Regarding bittorrent for piracy only comments, VMware hosts a library of pre-configured virtual appliances (firewalls, mail servers, linux distros, etc.) for evaluation or implementation. These are fully configured operating systems so most are 500mb to 2gb. They are only available for download via torrent. This is the only activity I’ve used this technology for and it works great – I’d hate to have it blocked.

  41. soldierblue says:

    Im pretty positive they cap bandwidth for users in general, not just for BitTorrent. For example, take a download manager and find a fast server. It becomes obvious that in at least some markets they are capping users at 1mb/s (or about 8mbps).

  42. Omir The Storyteller says:

    FWIW, I kept two Ubuntu ISOs open for several months because I had a reasonably fast (Comcast) connection and wanted to spread the word. I haven’t lately because of hardware problems, but the idea that Comcast would punish a loyal user who uses their service for a perfectly legal purpose (and making sure I limit my own bandwidth as I do so so I don’t hog my connection) doesn’t make me a happy camper.

    With the proliferation of, again, completely legal uses for Bittorrent that are cropping up all over the place (WoW is just one example, Democracy Player is another) Comcast is not doing themselves any favors. When users start getting dial-up speeds at DSL rates without knowing why, they’re going to start thinking twice about Comcast’s internet service.

    I can foresee a day when, for instance, Apple or Microsoft might establish their own P2P network to distribute patches, updates and company-sponsored content. What will Comcast do then??

  43. linga says:

    Comcast Internet is stop and go. The whole thing about Bit Torrent is just tip of the ice berg. They are stifling all kinds of competition. I have been pinging Comcast continuously for days and I can see response times any where ~37.0 ms to 150 ms. Try going from site to site quickly, you will see what I am talking about. They not only reset your connection, but also resets modem (warm boot).

    I have been using Vonage for about 3 years. For the last two months, whenever I use Vonage, either the call drops or you go to one-way mode (simplex) and you end up hanging up the call. I have had some email exchanges with Vonage and they appear to be clueless. I have also talked to many of my friends who has Comcast and Vonage and every single one of them have the same issue.

    Apparently no one at the FCC seem to care and I have also filed a complaint with FCC. When there are only two dominates the consumer Internet access, this is what we consumers get, I suppose. No wonder we in the US have limited choice, big money CONTRIBUTIONS controls all!

  44. linga says:

    Comcast definitely manipulates your traffic. I have been monitoring it for over 6 weeks. I don’t use Bit Torrent or any other P2P. I use Vonage and have used it for over 3 years. Now I cant have a call lasting more than 2 seconds, it will drop and when you look at the modem, it has been reset. I continuously Ping comcast and I can see Ping coming to a stop and pick right back up when when the modem comes back up. Modem resets are warm starts so it doesn’t take enough time for Ping to time out.

    I have also noticed many sites with graphics content would stop in mid stream.

    When did it become legal for service providers to peek into your traffic and manipulate. Isn’t it considered eves dropping and violation of privacy?

    Just curious.

  45. GR2008 says:

    I am an attorney here in Washington, DC looking to bring an action against cable internet providers who engage in the practice of “throttling.” However, I need a live witness who has the courage to stand up against this unfair and often unannounced activity. If you live in the District of Columbia and you subscribe to high-speed cable internet services, I’d like to hear from you in order to assess your claim. Please contact me at InternetResearch@gilbertrandolph.com. I’m anxious to speak with you regarding your experiences in this area.

  46. ceokhan says:

    if you use encrypted transfers then comcast can’t tell what you’re sending and thus cannot block your traffic. We still can’t figure out why Comcast doesn’t just come right out and admit what it’s doing in jamming certain kinds of traffic.
    ___________________________________________________________
    KicksOnFire.com – News & Updates on Air Jordan & Jordans

  47. Overheal says:

    bitTorrent isnt a website though (according to the memo) Its a Protocol!