Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Networking

Comcast Cheating On Bandwidth Testing? 287

Posted by kdawson
from the tuning-for-the-benchmark dept.
dynamo52 writes "I'm a freelance network admin serving mainly small business clients. Over the last few months, I have noticed that any time I run any type of bandwidth testing for clients with Comcast accounts, the results have been amazingly fast — with some connections, Speakeasy will report up to 15 Mbps down and 4 Mbps up. Of course, clients get nowhere near this performance in everyday usage. (This can be quite annoying when trying to determine whether a client needs to switch over to a T1 or if their current ISP will suffice.) Upon further investigation, it appears that Comcast is delivering this bandwidth only for a few seconds after any new request and it is immediately throttled down. Doing a download and upload test using a significantly large file (100+ MB) yields results more in line with everyday usage experience, usually about 1.2 Mbps down and about 250 Kbps up (but it varies). Is there any valid reason why Comcast would front-load transfers in this way, or is it merely an effort to prevent end-users from being able to assess their bandwidth accurately? Does anybody know of other ISPs using similar practices?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Comcast Cheating On Bandwidth Testing?

Comments Filter:
  • by vacaboca (691496) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:09AM (#22473734)
    Doesn't Comcast advertise this "SpeedBoost" as a feature - the language in their ads is something like "get massive super speed for the first 10MB of a download, then it will revert to your provisioned line speed"... So, it actually *is* a good thing rather than something to pad bandwidth tests, and it does generally help your general user, right?
    • by andawyr (212118) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:16AM (#22473806)
      I agree - I know that Shaw Cable (Alberta) offers a plan that does exactly this: for 5-20 seconds, you get increased download bandwidth. This is their PowerBoost feature, that costs an extra $2.95 above your regular plan....
      • by mrxak (727974)
        Ohhhh. So that's what it is. I keep seeing it on ads but I've never seen it actually explained. I assumed it was just marketing speak pretending to be some feature that didn't really exist.
      • I've noticed that my earthlink connection gets good marks for speed on tests but the speed tests take many seconds to actually start. In deed all my pages seem to load with multiple seconds of latency then all at once. (no it's not the browser, I have multiple computers that I move between home and work so I can do test across different ISPs)

        I think what they are doing is giving me 1000KBs at periodic intervals or with a high latency such that my peak speed is high but my average speed is low. My latenc
    • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:20AM (#22473832) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, the point is that you can get a webpage down in those first few seconds generally so browsing is much better than it would otherwise be.
      • by xSauronx (608805) <xsauronxdamnit@F ... m minus language> on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:49AM (#22474040)
        This is it, and it should be amazingly obvious to any "sysadmin" who should know something about general browsing habits. I worked for a wISP for a year and this was a standard feature offered by the company for no extra charge. Max subscriber speeds were 1.5 Mbps, but for about 20 seconds ALL traffic was burst to 2 Mbps, regardless of the subscriber paying for the 500 k/s speed or something higher. For general browsing and light email, it made all the customers quite happy to have things terrifically speedy.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by alx5000 (896642)

          OVH [ovh.net] offers dedicated servers with a dedicated 5 Mbps line, but you can upload some MB (I can't really remember if it was 5 or 10 MB) using full 100 Mbps capacity. After that, you let your upload privilege "refill" (i.e. using less than 5 Mbps "recharges the line"), so you can get another burst.

          Nothing new under the sun. If anything, it's kind of a cool feature. If you need to measure real bandwidth, bursty downloads won't do.

    • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:26AM (#22473862) Homepage
      So... how can you tweak your Bittorrent client to fool Comcast into thinking it is making lots of small downloads?
      • by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:28AM (#22473892) Homepage
        Torrents do that anyway. That is the reason why comcast have to beat them on the head. Each segment in the download is small enough to fit its "booster" criteria.

        Actually, there is nothing wrong with this approach. This means that interactive services and casual browsing are favoured vs bulk downloads. That is what every ISP wants to do anyway.
        • by ben there... (946946) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @10:05AM (#22474216) Journal

          Torrents do that anyway. That is the reason why comcast have to beat them on the head. Each segment in the download is small enough to fit its "booster" criteria.
          No, that's not right.

          PowerBoost only accelerates the connection if the average speed you've been getting over the past 30 seconds* is less than the speed you are rated at/paid for. So if you have a 6 Mbps connection, that's 768 KB/s max. PowerBoost will raise that to up to 2 MB/s for a little less than 15 seconds, making your average for the past 30 seconds equal to 768 KB/s. After that, no matter how many new connections you open, your connection stays at 768 KB/s. But if your connection gets interrupted/throttled for a few seconds, you may get another boost after it resumes, until you are back to 768 KB/s 30 second average again.

          *it may be slightly more/less than a 30 second average. Boosts seem to last about 10-15 seconds, which would make sense with that number.
          • by ultranova (717540) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @10:34AM (#22474496)

            That can't be right. From your description, it sounds like a genuinely good and beneficial to the user idea. Where's the catch ?

          • by arodland (127775) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @02:11PM (#22477474)
            Yeah, I did some testing on my own a while back and my theory is that it's a token-bucket sort of thing, implemented in the modem. Whenever your aggregate bandwidth is less than X for more than a certain amount of time, it allocates a "token" and resets your cap to 2*rated. The longer your connection is non-busy, the more tokens you get, up to a certain point (when the bucket is full). Then, when you start moving some data, and you go over your rated limit (which, after all, is half of what the modem is giving you), it starts taking tokens out of the bucket. When the bucket is empty, it re-caps you at your rated speed, and no more boost until you start collecting tokens again, which means a period of inactivity.

            And yes, as the other commenter pointed out, this is actually an entirely sensible way to deal with "bursty" internet use and improve user experience without actually buying any more bandwidth. It would be really sweet if Comcast didn't do other stupid shit ;)
      • by LordKazan (558383)
        i don't know if you'd have to... because the typical largest block in a torrent is 4meg.. so if you have to init a new connection to the peer for transfer it may work already.

        but it's probably only giving you that boost when you start from idle. so write an azureus plugin that batches your transfer starts appropriately.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Doesn't matter if you do.

        1) No peer can upload at those speeds
        2) If your speeds were that high, Comcast would just cut your connection due to their 'fair use' policy (trust me I know)
      • by NickCatal (865805) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @10:27AM (#22474414)
        There is a 'cooldown' timer. You need to be at very low bandwidth levels for a specific amount of time (or some other measure) before you can 'burst' again.

        In chicago it is 12mbps then down to 6 or 8 depending on your plan. To do a proper speedtest on comcast you need to download a 100-200MB file. Although if you are getting 12mbps easily odds are you are getting your rated line speed.
      • by croddy (659025) * on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @12:10PM (#22475626)

        I've made something of a game out of it, actually. With careful tactics, one can easily hit as much as 1.0 MiB/s upstream for short periods. I use Deluge to play. My present record is 2.4 MiB/s, on an Ubuntu 7.10 torrent for which I already had all the file data.

        First, configure your torrent client to use a modest number of connections -- limit it to, say, 250 connections globally and 70% of your nominal upstream speed. Then, get on a very large, active torrent and build up a few minutes' worth of downloaded data. Once you're in the swarm, open everything wide up -- no global connection limit, no bandwidth cap, and no per-torrent upload slot limit. If your client has a bandwidth chart, watch it scroll by and enjoy the thrill as your upstream bandwidth surges to heights like you have never seen before. Of course, eventually the Power Boost will wear off and some connections will finish as their pieces are completely transferred, but it's fun while it lasts.

      • by CharlieHedlin (102121) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @12:17PM (#22475696)
        They aren't shaping based on individual downloads. They are going to shape all the traffic going to your cable modem as a single stream. There may be other outbound queues within the shaper to provide fair queuing and such, but that gets too complicated for this post.

        Most shapers (including the ones in their broadband routers) allow a variety of parameters.
        You can set a sustained rate, peek rate, and burst size. For example a common implementation would have the following values (I haven't worked with Cisco QOS much, so it may be implemented differently but the principals are the same):
        sustained rate: 2mbps
        burst rate: 10mbps
        Max burst size: 10 Megabytes

        The burst size counter is depleted as you download over 2mbps, and replenished when you download under 2mbps.
        When you download a 100MB file you will deplete the burst size at 8mbps. You can download at 10mbps for 10.5 seconds, at which point your download will drop to 2mbps and will stay there until you slow your transfer rate. If you stop downloading completely it will take 42 seconds to refill your burst counter.

    • If this were true, couldn't you break up downloads into 10 mb chunks and get the equivalent of the high "sustained" speed numbers?
    • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:48AM (#22474032) Journal
      There is an old saying "never attribute to malice what incompetence can explain", but come on guys, this is comcast. A snake doesn't bite by mistake.
    • by strredwolf (532)
      They had been for a while, especially with those "High speed" commercials. Not as of late, though.
    • by ElizabethGreene (1185405) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @10:01AM (#22474176)
      You are correct in your interpretation. The customer briefly receives more than they pay for after a period of inactivity, this throttles down to the 'purchased' bandwidth as the activity increases. For Read-Click-Load-Read web browsing this gets content in front of eyeballs quicker and is a "good" thing. If you are using a tiny file for a bandwidth test it screws up the results. HINT: USE A BIGGER FILE.

      People are out with pitchforks and torches over the "bad" thing Comcast does, throttling Torrent downloads, which works completely differently. To throttle a torrent, they forge a "I'm dead" packet from remote host, and send it to the customer. This causes the customer's torrent application to shop elsewhere for a feed. The repeated connect-forge disconnect-search-connect process slows the overall transfer. This only works because of the multi-peer technology underlying torrents, and wouldn't work with web browsing or ftp*.

      -Ellie
      * technically it would reduce the bandwidth usage, because it terminates the connection. This would result in broken connections and half-downloaded files. Then the pitchforks would REALLY come out.
      • by Fallen Kell (165468) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @12:17PM (#22475694)
        To throttle a torrent, they forge a "I'm dead" packet from remote host, and send it to the customer. This causes the customer's torrent application to shop elsewhere for a feed. The repeated connect-forge disconnect-search-connect process slows the overall transfer. This only works because of the multi-peer technology underlying torrents, and wouldn't work with web browsing or ftp*.

        Actually that is not entirely correct. If they were simply forging the RST packet and only sending it to their customer it would be a simply matter of having the customer's firewall filter out all RST packets on specified port that is used for torrent download/uploads. I in fact have such a filter rule in place. However, detailed testing has shown that Comcast is sending the RST packet to BOTH their customer AND the outside connection, not just their own customers. Unless both sides have the RST filter in place on their firewalls, the connections are still dropped and throttled. This is what is going to get them into trouble as they are not just sending forged packets to their customers whom they have it written down in their service agreements somewhere that they can do this to you, but they are also forging YOUR identity and sending those packets to outside entities to affect their service as well, something that those people have NOT agreed to have happen to them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Crazy Taco (1083423)

      Doesn't Comcast advertise this "SpeedBoost" as a feature - the language in their ads is something like "get massive super speed for the first 10MB of a download, then it will revert to your provisioned line speed"... So, it actually *is* a good thing rather than something to pad bandwidth tests, and it does generally help your general user, right?

      Except that I never get more than my apportioned amount. In other words, my SpeedBoost never goes faster than the 6MB I actually pay for. I think that's what the

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by jsdcnet (724314)

        Except that I never get more than my apportioned amount. In other words, my SpeedBoost never goes faster than the 6MB I actually pay for. I think that's what the person who wrote the article is saying too: "Goes at the speed they paid for, which is really fast, for a short time period and then drops to something like 1.2 MB, which is clearly slower than most comcast plans."

        That person should call up and complain. We were paying for 8MB, it was not running that fast, they checked and realized our modem needed a configuration reload, after which we were back up to our paid speed with a credit on our account for the time missed. Also, not all older cable modems are compatible with the "SpeedBoost" technology, they may need to trade in for a newer model.

    • This would explain why Netflix's Watch Instantly feature always stops after a few minutes and has to re-buffer with the message "your internet connection has slowed." It's really irritating. It's been doing ever since Comcast dropped my monthly rate and told me they were signing me up for "faster" service. !@#$%@#$^%
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by N7DR (536428)
      Yes; this capability is built into DOCSIS (the most common generic name for it is "DOCSIS boost"). Some cable operators turn on the feature, some do not. Comcast not only turns the feature on, but markets it rather aggressively (I think they call it "Powerboost", to give it a sexy name). The feature allows cable operators to set a temporary higher bandwidth limitation for a user, and also to set how many octets are transferred before the user is relegated to their normal bandwidth limitations. It's all spel
    • For all this crying, I found it very easy to get my full advertised rate from Comcast. I use a Linux box and throttle my upstream flow so as never to lose a TCP ACK in the virtually non-existent transmit buffer in my cable modem. Never lose an ACK means never suffer from TCP throttling.

      Since TCP accelerates linearly and falls back exponentially, each fallback is disastrous, and if you fall back once, you are likely to do it several times in a row from the same cause.

      So find out what your upstream speed is
  • Powerboost (Score:5, Informative)

    by SquierStrat (42516) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:09AM (#22473736) Homepage
    This is because of powerboost. As I understand it, powerboost makes the first 20MB download at a higher rate than your advertised bandwidth. Since bandwidth tests are done on such small files, you get a worthless result. The idea is that people who download lotsa of relatively small files get better performance, where as people downloading a lot of huge files like ISO images, full length movies, et cetera willg et initially good speed but after 20MB will feel like they are getting gipped.
    • Re:Powerboost (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:15AM (#22473796)
      I suppose it depends on how much it drops for those larger files. If it goes from 10Mbps to 1 Mbps I could see the point, but if it only drops to something lik 7 or 8 Mbps I think that's a reasonable rate. We also have to remember that this is a residential connection. It is designed for the typical residential user. That type of person will download a lot of smaller files regularly. The result is that the web browsing will seem very fast. ISO downloads? Not so much.

      I wonder how it deals with P2P or a multi-streams of data. What if I have 10x 30Kbps streams running simultaneously would that aggregate and trigger the throttle down mechanism?
      • Re:Powerboost (Score:5, Informative)

        by FritzTheCat1030 (758024) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:20AM (#22473828)
        I have Comcast's advertised 8 Mbps service and I very consistently get that downloading large files off of Usenet. I get about 25 Mbps for the first 20-30 seconds after I start a download.
        • Same here, although on my connection, late at night, I've gotten powerboost speeds for whole large file downloads. I downloaded one divx game trailer which was 600 mb in about 2.5 minutes! That's an average of 32 mbps! I really dislike Comcast's business practices, but I can't really complain about the service at my location.
        • by mxs (42717)
          I wonder whether any download managers already account for this kind of crap. It should be trivial to code managers that reset the connection every 15-20 seconds.
          Sure, it ain't pretty on the servers, but the brainiacs at ComCast don't care.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kvezach (1199717)
      Sounds like that could be tricked... instead of downloading a single ISO file, download 35 20MB files at boosted speed. Write a script to automate it, even. Or am I wrong here? If they disregard connections and turn off the boost after 20MB from when you first connected, then just downloading 21MB and disregarding the results for the first 20 should return the correct results for bandwidth tests.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by petecarlson (457202)
        Imagine it like a bucket with a fill rate of X and a drain rate of 10X. No matter how you work it, you are only going to get data over the long term at rate X although over the short term you could get speeds of 10X till your bucket is full.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905)
        Well if I did it, the boosts will be on a per customer IP basis. Not per connection. You would then have to be able to successfully _request_ for a new different and valid source IP address every few seconds, and then do the downloading. Good luck with that.

        Comcast might do things differently.
        • by harryk (17509)
          I'm sure you're aware of mac address spoofing. If I were really in the need of this type of bandwidth (and a comcast customer ... I'm not) .. I'd write a script that changed the reported MAC address released/renewed the IP and started on the next file.

          Personally, I'd rather pay up front for a consistent higher speed. I do. I pay an extra $5 (or something cheap, I don't remember exactly) and I get an additional 8mbit down, and an additional 640Kbps up, for a total bandwidth of 15Mbit down / 1Mbit up.

          I'm h
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by QuietLagoon (813062)
      While I was looking around for into on PowerBoost, I ran into these comments [news.com]:

      A Comcast official said the company is not boosting speeds for particular applications or content, a situation that would likely get Comcast into hot water with Net neutrality proponents, who want network operators to provide the same level of service to all content providers on the Net. Instead it's supercharging speeds for all customers downloading any content--whether it's music, e-mail, pictures or movies--when the network is not being used at maximum capacity.

      "The Comcast network is really content-agnostic," said company spokeswoman Jeanne Russo. [/quote]

      • Re:Powerboost (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Mister Whirly (964219) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @12:20PM (#22475724) Homepage
        ""The Comcast network is really content-agnostic," said company spokeswoman Jeanne Russo."

        This is technically kind of true.
        They are not protocol-agnostic though. But content, sure. They block both "illegal" and legal bittorent files, so they are not examining the content, they are just making assumptions without really looking.
  • by hesiod (111176)
    Most traffic is HTTP, being very small files. If it starts off very quickly, most web browsing would go extremely fast, while larger files would go at "normal speed"
  • Easy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RalphSleigh (899929)
    Speed up web browsing for their customers while keeping those dirty bittorrent pirates at bay?
  • Gasp! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Oxy the moron (770724) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:11AM (#22473758)

    Comcast? Dishonest? Say it ain't so!

    All kidding aside, this wouldn't surprise me too much. Comcast (and probably all other providers) are advertising this super-mega-intarweb speed as "up to x mbps." So, theoretically, as long as *one* site can provide data at that rate, their marketing garbage still stands. Even if 99.9% of the other websites top out at 4kbps, if Speakeasy's speed test says it can transfer a file at 15mpbs, technically Comcast is correct. They are giving you "up to 15mbps."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dal20402 (895630) *

      The usual Slashdot "assume dishonesty before checking out the facts" attitude...

      Except that they only advertise 8Mbps sustained speed, which is what you get. They also advertise PowerBoost, which gets you ~25Mbps for a few seconds.

      Comcast needs to be drawn and quartered over their forged packets, but they haven't done anything dishonest in advertising their speeds, at least not where I live. I do indeed get >20MBps for a few seconds and then 8MBps until the cows come home.

    • Not in the least bit dishonest. There are *many* faults with Comcast, but this aspect of their service (and, I think, their Sandvine throttling of bittorrent) are totally legitimate.

      Comcast advertises their connection like this: a 6 Mbps download, 384 upload, with a temporary "up to 20 second" boost to 12 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload.

      How is this _at all_ disadvantageous to the customer? If you are downloading small files, or browsing the web, you're golden. And by small I mean 5-15 Megs, which is actuall
  • by Tranvisor (250175) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:12AM (#22473764) Homepage
    Most internet browsing is with relatively small amounts of data, so wouldn't front-loading of this nature noticeably increase browsing performance? Since this kind of performance is noticed by the majority of users it would seem to be something that increases their perception of their connections' speed.

    I'm not saying that Comcast might not be cheating on purpose for speed tests, I just think that there might be another reason behind it other than just to make their test scores artifically high.
  • by jackhererUK (992339) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:13AM (#22473774)
    Sounds like they have simply optimised their network to favour "bursty" usage, for example web browsing. This would seem a sensible thing for a consumer ISP to do.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by GodCandy (1132301)
      I would have to agree. Most "normal" internet traffic is very bursty. You load the page then you sit there and look for a minute and then you load another. Sometimes you get the wild hair to download something large, at which point the provider limits your connection to prevent there network from becomming saturated. It is a resonable thing to do. I can't argue with it as long as the provider is stating that this is a few secconds at the beginning of a connection and will not sustain for the duration o
  • Front-Load (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Smidge204 (605297)
    Is there any valid reason why Comcast would front-load transfers in this way

    Your average webpage is not 100+MB. If they give you full bandwidth for, say, 2 seconds - most reasonable webpages will download completely within that time. It's not "cheating" exactly since they don't guarantee those speeds, but "up to" those speeds. They're not the only ones who do it, either.

    Still a sleezy thing to do...
    =Smidge=
  • by drcagn (715012) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:14AM (#22473784) Homepage
    http://www6.comcast.net/powerboost/ [comcast.net]

    All it does is give you short bursts of high bandwidth and is really more talk than usefulness.

    My ISP, Cox, does this too, though once the "PowerBoost" thing is off, I steadily get the bandwidth I'm supposed to get. Dunno about Comcast.
  • by eebra82 (907996) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:14AM (#22473788) Homepage

    Several months ago, New Englanders were the first consumers to experience Comcast Communications' latest high-speed Internet upgrade - PowerBoost Speed Enhancer. The speed upgrade is now being rolled out to Comcast customers nationwide. This new network technology temporarily doubles Internet speeds for consumers subscribing to the company's 6 megabits per second and 8 Mbps services, bringing download speeds to 12 Mbps and 16 Mbps, respectively.

    Some consumers may not notice the speed increase when downloading smaller files, such as text-based e-mails and simple Web sites with few graphics. However, customers who frequently download large files, such as software, games, music, photos, and videos will now download at speeds that are faster than ever before. For example, PowerBoost significantly reduces the time it takes to download a one hour television program. Comcast subscribers at the 6 Mbps tier would reduce their wait time in half - from 4 minutes and 29 seconds to 2 minutes and 15 seconds. And MP3 fans will be able to download music files as fast as 2.2 seconds!
    See more here [broadbandinfo.com]
  • Token Bucket (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:15AM (#22473798)
    Um, this isn't a new concept, nor is it particularly sneaky:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Token_bucket [wikipedia.org]

  • I've come to the conclusion that those Speakeasy tests are way too optimistic on my RoadRunner connection as well. Need to find a more reliable way of testing. I wouldn't be surprised if ISPs just simply boost connections to Speakeasy as well -- would at least explain how when browsing all other sites is slow, and then doing the Speakesy test I get a high score.
  • Speeds (Score:2, Informative)

    by Sunar (1100779)
    If you are only getting 1.2Mb sustained on Comcast you have a problem. I can pull 6Mb steady for hours on end using Comcast. Like others have said though...Speed Boost will make tests show different numbers at times.

    ~Sun
  • by thejynxed (831517) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:42AM (#22473978) Homepage
    You just might want to check that their connections are properly tweaked as far as RWIN, MTU, etc go. 14/5 compared to 1.2/290 is a vast, vast difference that should never happen if they are paying for a certain tier of service, even if it is advertised as "up to" that higher rate. I'd also do a smoke ping and line quality tests, etc over at BroadbandReports, because there is something definitely not right with those connections if that is the average drop in performance. There may also be mis-configured firewalls, routers, mis-provisioned lines, water leaks, etc causing such issues.

    My advertised and provisioned rate via Atlantic Broadband cable is 5/512. I am actually getting closer to 6 or 7 down and 468 up at all times due to some tweaking I did. Even the AtlanticBB tech seemed a bit shocked that I was getting more than 5 down, and said it was unusual, but they wouldn't re-provision the line or anything because of it. I count myself lucky, because Verizon's service here is absolute rubbish - $25.00/month for 1.5/768 DSL that, shall I say in the politest way possible, isn't actually working for more than two weeks per month because they are too cheap to replace lines that were put up in this town sometime in the 1950's at the latest (Not to mention they never actually bother to show up for scheduled appointments to rewire buildings that were constructed pre-1900, such as mine - big old Victorian type home turned into apartments).

    Powerboost does mess with speed testing, however those "tests" are very rarely accurate anyhow, as I can rate higher on a test to Seattle or Los Angeles than I do to say Pittsburgh, Toronto or NYC, which are MUCH closer to where I live (by several thousand wire miles). It's more accurate to calculate your average rates by downloading/uploading large files from/to a university/public FTP or something, at least in my experience.
  • Internet connections are not just for websurfing and emails anymore.

    Of course it depens on the user, the average traffic from my xbox 360 alone (in gaming, demo downloads, movies etc) in one day, is more than my parents have in a month with their just light surfing and email use. And I don't use my xbox that much.

    It is an issue they have to face now. Legal traffic alone these days for high tech households internet use, can pass your ISPs secret acceptable use limits.

  • QoS limits (Score:2, Informative)

    by Sniper98G (1078397)
    This is a result of "burst rate" which is an asignable property in QoS. The idea is to allow small files like web pages to load much quicker then large file transfers. Most ISP's are doing this now as a means to speed up web browsing. The best way to get an acurate speed mesurment for file transfers is to download a large file while using bandwidth monitoring software.
  • How about an answer? (Score:4, Informative)

    by WhyMeWorry (982235) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @09:55AM (#22474114)

    I know that this is slashdot but I'll try to answer some of the OP's question anyway. Of course I won't do any original research myself, but rather rely on information from the previous posters or make things up as I go.

    Q1. Is there any valid reason why Comcast would front-load transfers in this way?

    Yes. Most requests from browsers are for short files. By upping the speed for short requests, pages will render faster. This is a plus for the user, as he spends less time idling. Long downloads on the other time are expected to take a while to complete; the user expects to be able to walk away from the computer for a while. Thus Comcast can argue that they have greatly enhanced the experience of the web browser by stealing a few cycles from the downloader. I would welcome such a plan as long as the ISO downloading speed is reasonable.

    Q2. Is it merely an effort to prevent end-users from being able to assess their bandwidth accurately?

    It would have that effect on a poorly designed bandwidth test. Bandwidth testers try to make the download size long enough to counteract tcp connection costs and to average over variations in download speed. Comcast has just given them another variable to take in to account. Interestingly, there are some test suites that are designed to detect what Comcast is doing and give them extra credit for it. They bill their tests as real world throughput tests. They want to indicate what the effective bandwidth is while browsing web pages that reference many images or javascript files.

    Q3. Is Comcast cheating?

    If Comcast is just doing this when accessing known test sites then they are cheating. If this is their policy for all connections then the worst that can be said is that they are optimizing their service to a particular class of users (surfers as opposed to downloaders). If you are in this category, then you should be happy.

  • by smartin (942)
    I wish that Verizon did not block ports 25 and 80. I already have FIOSTV and would switch to their internet service in a heartbeat but I don't want to give up my web and mail servers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ioldanach (88584)

      I wish that Verizon did not block ports 25 and 80. I already have FIOSTV and would switch to their internet service in a heartbeat but I don't want to give up my web and mail servers.
      They'd be happy to unblock those for you, and give you a static ip, for $99.99 per month [verizon.com] with a 2 year agreement.
      • by smartin (942)
        Right, I'm not the sort of person that would ever pay double for something like that. I'm not a business user I have a simple personal low volume website for friends and family. I could probably work around the port 80 restriction but I can't understand why they would block port 25 inbound? Outbound I can understand.
        • by Ioldanach (88584)
          I had ports 25 and 80 inbound blocked on my last cable provider, as well. They have a "no servers" clause in the contract, so they block port 80 and port 25 under those grounds. It also helps to prevent open relays on their network, and since you're not allowed to run a server in the first place, they don't have any problem preventing all incoming traffic on the port. Again, I could have purchased a business plan for a similar premium.
  • See link here (Score:3, Informative)

    by MECC (8478) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @10:01AM (#22474180)
    Comcast has been doing this for a while [broadbandreports.com] now.
  • Iperf (Score:3, Informative)

    by MT628496 (959515) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @10:11AM (#22474280)
    Iperf [nlanr.net], or something like it is what you should be using for speed tests. Set up the daemon on a machine that you know you need to access and tell it to send a ton of data a few times. See what the results are. Those speed tests test how quickly you can communicate with some random server that you'll never need to send any presentations or video files to in day to day business.
    • by clf8 (93379)
      Honestly, how can you test the bandwidth of a connection without some sort of sustained test? That's like taking a scientific poll but only asking 2 people. To further the analogy, with Speedboost the 'informed' people are at the front of the line, so they're asked first. In addition, wouldn't you want to run this testing at various times in the day as well?
  • It's true (Score:5, Informative)

    by soren100 (63191) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @10:28AM (#22474422)
    I can assure that they do absolutely do this, and it is really annoying.

    It's really bad on uploads -- I just ran a test and I got 300 KB/s for the first 5 megs, then it degrades 100 KB/second over the next few megs, so that by the time you have uploaded 14 megs you are getting close to 40 KB/S in upload speed, and the connection is so bad that the shared digital phone line does not have enough bandwidth to have a phone conversation. Stop the upload and start it up again, and you get 330 kb/second, with the same degradation curve.

    For downloads they do the same thing, but not so severely -- I downloaded a 67 meg file and it ran at about 750 KB initially, but then dropped to around 350-400 KB/S (according to the FTP app) about halfway through.

    So for anyone using the connection for smaller file sizes (like the speed tests) you seem to get "blazing" speeds -- I ran the test at a couple of the internet speed test sites and they both think that I have 12000-14000 kb/s download speed and 2700 kb/s upload speed.

    So if I didn't have any other way to measure it, I would think that I was getting way more than I paid for, rather than something that in reality is very pitiful.
  • I've heard this said before..."this can be quite annoying when trying to determine whether a client needs to switch over to a T1 or if their current ISP will suffice." It's a service that the ISP is providing on their network, learn to work with it. And this is a good reason why you should be trending the link utilization before making a recommendation.

    Unless there is an problem with the link that can be immediately identified at the time you tested, like a physical problem, then you should develop a

  • Crumcast... (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by flajann (658201)
    What can I say? Switch to Fios if you can!

    I've had my Fios Fibre-optic connection for over a year now, and unlike everything else I've had before -- including Crumcast -- Fios has been fast and trouble-free. I can sustain the 5Mb down and the 2Mb up without a hitch, and I've tested this with BitTorrent, of all things.

    It's so good, in fact, that it's been exposing problems with my Netgear Wireless Router RangeMax -- I don't think they'd figured on someone sustaining that kind of bandwidth. So it's time for

    • by KillerBob (217953)
      Err... I'm getting 7/1 from my cable provider for $35 CAD/month. It's consistently fast, they don't throttle it, they didn't even yell at me that month I downloaded a 56GB torrent (nor did they charge me overage, even though I'm supposed to only be 40GB/month)....

      Depends on the market you're in. By European or Asian standards, even my connection is crap.
      • by flajann (658201)
        It has been a long painful thing watching the US slip behind the rest of the world tech-wise, education-wise, freedom-wise, etc.
  • by redelm (54142) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @11:10AM (#22474946) Homepage
    What part of "shared bandwidth" do you not understand? It boosts peak (short-term) rates by using other' users idle capacity. This has been done for 10+ years and is a feature of consumer-grade links that helps keep their costs down.

    If you want a commercial-grade link you expect to saturate, pay for it! Otherwise, you are stealing from other users and the ISP should throttle you to be fair to them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by JCSoRocks (1142053)
      I *have* a commercial grade link and I'm *still* getting throttled. It wasn't too much of a problem until this last month or so. Steam updates get dropped. VPN connections take forever. Netflix movie downloads that used to be fast are a joke now (from nearly instant to 10 minutes, ugh). It's infuriating. Nearly everything I do everyday requires a fast Internet connection and even though I'm paying specifically for one, I'm not getting it. :-/

  • How can we trigger this effect all the time?

  • any time I run any type of bandwidth testing for clients with Comcast accounts, the results have been amazingly fast

    If you want to test sustained speed, then test sustained speed. When you benchmark a HD, do you only test reading small files (which will fit in the HD's cache ram) and then get surprised when the sustained speed is significantly lower? Use the right benchmarking tool, mmkay?

    it appears that Comcast is delivering this bandwidth only for a few seconds after any new request and it is immediately
  • So... what exactly stops you from writing some sort of a program that will throttle your network to download 5 mb, wait a second, download another 5 mb, and continue? Your overall average speed will be much higher. It really depends on the "falloff" rate, how quickly you can download again, at the full speed.
  • If they slow you down after the first 20 seconds into a 700MB iso download, might I suggest:
    false; while [ $? != 0 ] ; do wget -c http://ubuntu.com/foo.iso [ubuntu.com] & ; export X=$! ; sleep 20 ; except kill -9 $X ; done

    This runs wget in continuation, sets the PID of wget to X, sleeps for 20 seconds, kills wget, and finally quits when wget isn't around any more. Possible problem: if something else gets wget's old PID during the sleep period (after wget finishes normally), kill -9 will kill it, and run through th
  • I've been watching this on my company's business cable for a while too. We pay for 6 (maybe 8) mbit Comcast but when I run speed tests I see as much as 24mbit. I also watch the connections on my firewall and Window's Performance Monitor. Why the topic poster thought this was a "speed test defeater" is beyond me. It's obviously a burst feature.

  • The only way to really know is, to install a linux box as a gateway between the users and the ISP and do some serious traffic logging and analysis. This way you can build a profile of how the users are Really loading the system and how the responds. Switching a customer from a low duty cycle ISP that provides bursts of 16 Mb/S to a high duty cycle T1 line that provide 1.54 Mb/S, is a serious endeavor especially considering that the cable modem provides 10 times the bandwidth for 1/6th the price, you need al
  • Shortest Job First (Score:5, Informative)

    by natoochtoniket (763630) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @12:49PM (#22476136)

    In operating system theory, it is well known that a scheduling algorithm called "Shortest Job First" yields the least total waiting time. The SJF algorithm is usually implemented by giving a "new" job high priority, and then reducing the priority gradually as the job accumulates resource usage. The algorithm was developed in the 1960's to allow time-sharing operating systems to provide rapid keystroke response, while continuing to process large batch jobs in the background.

    For communication systems, the same principle applies. The only difference is that the network is sharing a different resource (circuit bandwidth), instead of cpu time. The "new" connection gets high priority, and then that priority is reduced as the number of bytes/packets transferred over that connection increases. This allows rapid response for interactive applications, like browsing or editing, while also allowing the network to process large data transfers in the background. To apply it to datagram traffic, the switch just keeps a priority for each source/destination address-pair in cache, and any pair that is not in the cache is regarded as "new".

    This has been pretty much standard practice in packet communication switching for a very long time. There is no surprise here, at least not to those of us who have not been doing communications network programming for a few decades.

  • by Sedennial (182739) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @02:30PM (#22477778)
    This is not at all uncommon. Having worked as a network engineer for an ISP for 7 years just prior to my current job, I can tell you that this is common practice, especially if they are using any ATM. One of the reasons is that most session based transactions (web pages, email downloads, etc) are over in a few seconds. It actually provides better throughput and congestion control for the entire network to allow the initial transaction to burst at a higher speed, since a huge portion of those transactions are over very quickly.

    Think of the connection as a large pipe (your cable connection) with a small outflow valve (your modem), connected to a larger, higher pressure pipe (your ISP). Until your local pipe is full, you can put water into it as fast as you desire. But once it is full, the volume slows down because you can only put in as much as you are taking out (your cable modem connection/outflow valve). So what speakeasy and various other speed testing sites see is the effect of filling up your local pipe (your connection to your ISP).

    What a large file download shows you is the actual throughput.

    BTW, this is also a quick, very simplified explanation of bandwidth (how much data you can pack into the pipe) vs. throughput (how fast you can actually pull data through the pipe). :)
  • by massysett (910130) on Tuesday February 19, 2008 @04:12PM (#22479348) Homepage
    After reading and commenting on Slashdot for some time, I stopped reading it months ago due to dumb stories like this. I only came over here because Broadband Reports was making fun of Slashdot:

    http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Slashdot-Keeps-Rediscovering-Comcast-Powerboost-91976 [dslreports.com]

    kdawson continually posts garbage like this. s/he clearly has no clue. Get rid of kdawson and maybe I'll come back here.

Thus spake the master programmer: "After three days without programming, life becomes meaningless." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"

Working...