EFF‘s recent report on the Comcast Affair [pdf] is worth paying attention to. It’s a thoughtful and easy-to-understand exploration of Comcast’s injection of “reset” packets into online communications. (I wrote briefly about this here.) EFF is also letting us know how we can see packet spoofing for ourselves – here.
There are three myths that EFF pays particular attention to – ways of explaining Comcast’s activity that have been themselves injected into the public discussion of this issue in order to smooth things over.
“This is just network management.” EFF points out that there are many more reasonable things that ISPs can do to make sure that bandwidth hogs don’t crowd out more moderate users. For example, Comcast could dynamically limit the amount of data per second that any user could transmit, based on the congestion levels of its network. This would affect only those users that were downloading very large files.
“We’re just delaying some traffic.” EFF says this is an “incomplete and misleading” description of what Comcast is doing. They point out that inserting “reset” packages will cause some software to just stop working. Only if the software tries to reattempt connection indefinitely, and only if Comcast jams only part of the time rather than all of the time, will packet forgeries merely delay communications. Otherwise – this forgery will keep the connections from persisting.
“No one gets hurt by this practice.” Here’s where EFF makes its most substantial contribution. Developers of software get hurt when they can’t rely on adherence to online standards. When the functioning of TCP/IP is within the discretion of the carrier, developers have to ask permission in order to launch anything new. In particular, more efficient ways of distributing video may be frustrated by Comcast’s behavior. (Which helps Comcast.)
Someone from a reasonable Northern European country forwarded a copy of the EFF reports to me saying, in effect, “In our local context this would create quite a parliamentary riot. I wouldn’t know whether the same applies to the US.”
EFF tells us that Comcast is the second largest ISP in the U.S. They *are* internet access for millions of Americans. This EFF report, and the AP story that ran in October, should be kept in bright light as we wait patiently for a new administration to come to power in Washington.