Comcast tests a new bandwidth black list

Comcast has begun testing new technologies that could result in its blacklisting heavy users of Internet content. The cable provider says it is necessary because of congestion caused by a handful of customers who use far more bandwidth than everyone else.

Until now, “The New York Times” reported, Comcast has been using devices that interfered with the BitTorrent protocol — the most common method for downloading large files from computers of other users. BitTorrent is often used for exchanging pornography and illegal copies of movies, but creators of video and software also choose to use BitTorrent as an inexpensive way to distribute their creations.

Comcast will test new devices that will keep track of Comcast users and assemble a list of heavy users. Those on the blacklist will find that all of their online activities may slow down at peak times: from downloading movies to checking e-mail.

For now, these restrictions are just as mysterious as the secret blocking of BitTorrent, the report said. Charlie Douglas, a Comcast spokesman, said the company would not disclose what sort of usage it takes to get on the black list, how long someone stays on it and if there is any way to get off. Most significantly, Comcast won’t even tell users if they are on the black list.

Comcast, which has been criticized for not being forthright about its restrictions on BitTorrent, has promised to find a new approach that will block heavy users of bandwidth regardless of what content or communication protocol they are using.

The cable operator is starting three 30-day tests, each of a different sort of hardware that it might use as the traffic cop for its new restrictions. Last week it started tests in Chambersburg, PN, and Warrenton, VA. Later in the summer, it will conduct another test in Colorado Springs, CO.

How the company can test the effect on its customers without explaining the rules to them and giving them visibility into their own usage remains to be seen.

All of this may be resolved by the FCC, which is investigating Comcast for violations of its rules by not explaining its policies to consumers.