Net Neutrality: Comcast Finally Stops Squeezing Heavy Net Users

Just three days after the FCC abolished Obama-era net neutrality rules guaranteeing that internet service providers treat all data equally, one of the United States’ largest ISPs made a seemingly benevolent gesture—saying it would finally put a halt to its decade old-practice of “data throttling.”

“Throttling” refers to the practice of an ISP deliberately slowing data transmission speeds for certain users, or for certain online sites. Comcast started throttling data for heavy internet users in 2008, at the height of the “torrenting” phenomenon when internet users regularly deployed apps, such as BitTorrent and others, to upload and download mostly illegal data, such as copyright-violating music and video files.

The move also comes after states began the process of imposing their own net neutrality rules, with Washington becoming the first to put its own net neutrality legislation into effect, as reported on Wednesday. The California state senate also recently approved a bill that would create a net neutrality framework in that state, which has the world’s fifth-largest economy. 

Comcast did not specify whether its latest move to end throttling was connected to the state net neutrality moves, but the company did say that it may re-impose a throttling system in the future, according to the tech news site ZD Net.

Throttling could be a a particular problem for porn consumers, who regularly stream or download large video files. It certainly was a problem in the peak torrenting era when, according to one study, 14 percent of all files shared using the app were porn.

In fact, porn users continued to be heavy torrenters, according to a 2014 survey by the site TorrentFreak, which found that 35 percent of all files on the torrenting site Pirate Bay were porn of one form or another.

After Comcast was exposed for targeting BitTorrent users specifically in 2007, the internet giant put an “application agnostic” system in place, designed to throttle data of “heavy internet users” without any attention paid to which applications they used, or the source of the data they were downloading, according to an Ars Technica report. 

Comcast said in a statement that it was able to ditch its throttling system because advances in network technology now allowed it to handle its network traffic. But Comcast is also keeping data caps in place, meaning that users on data capped plans will have to pay extra for exceeding their caps—even though Comcast no has no problems processing that extra data.

Ars Technica reporters said that they questioned Comcast as to why the company continued to slap users with fees for going over their caps when the overages apparently cost the company nothing. But by Thursday afternoon, the ISP had not yet offered an explanation.

Photo by Mike Mozart / Wikimedia Commons 

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