The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Friday, October 19, 2007

Does Philip K. Dick dream of electronic surveillance?

It hasn't been a good week for paranoiacs. First was the whole revelation that telecoms had handed over much more private user information to the administration than they'd previously admitted (actually, didn't they just deny it?), and that Congress is going to look the other way as they're given immunity from lawsuits relating to their, uhhh... illegal activity.

Now Comcast has reversed its public statement that it doesn't interfere with customers' private use on the Internet. A quick Internet search will reveal a whole slew of cases where people had their Comcast service cut off with no explanation. When they were told it was from excessive bandwidth usage (indicative of spammers, the company claimed), they naturally asked what the limit was so they could monitor it themselves. And were promptly told "the limit varies." In other words, Comcast reserves the right to A) monitor what you're doing (well, that's fairly reasonable), B) cut you off without notice if they don't like it (hey, every company does that), and C) provide no guidelines or explanation for their actions. Not good.

Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.

The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users.

If widely applied by other ISPs, the technology Comcast is using would be a crippling blow to the BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella file-sharing networks. While these are mainly known as sources of copyright music, software and movies, BitTorrent in particular is emerging as a legitimate tool for quickly disseminating legal content.

Anyway, the whole thing is worth reading-- and I'd strongly encourage you to do a Google search for cases of Comcast cutting off people's connections without notice, then refusing to explain why the customers were in violation. Even as they admit that they frequently change what constitutes a violation. And many of those customers were apparently using significantly less bandwidth than they were promised in the first place.

The bottom line is that the already hugely profitable telecoms are perfectly willing to use their market share muscle (a monopoly in some parts of Boston) to keep charging more for providing less.