Through this journey, I published my results, had cancer and recovered from it, my testing was the subject of major articles by the Associated Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an FCC investigation which we won on its merits (then lost on jurisdiction), a class-action lawsuit that netted users up to $16 million (which I ultimately bailed out on because it didn't win users nearly enough), and an exciting feature film that documented it.

Barbershop Punk is a documentary that examines the subject commonly called "Network Neutrality" and documents part of my own story where I discovered and documented Comcast's interference with my (and our) peer-to-peer uploads. In an era of media consolidation and lack of competitive choices, individual voices were (and still can be) censored by bad policies and practices of our Internet providers.

I do this today because the producers and directors of Barbershop Punk are in their final 10 days of their Kickstarter campaign to promote their film, which "features discussions with Ian MacKaye, Damian Kulash of OK Go, Henry Rollins, Janeane Garofalo, EFF's John Perry Barlow, U.S. Congressmen Chip Pickering, Congressman Marsha Blackburn, Free Form DJ Jim Ladd, Clinton White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry, Michelle Combs of the Christian Coalition, Songwriters Guild President Rick Carnes, NARAL's Ted Miller, lobbyist Jack Burkman, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, among others." This ASK ME ANYTHING was brought to life with the assistance of The Open Source Democracy Foundation (theosdf.org). Check out Barbershop Punk on Google, YouTube, imdb, Bing, Ask, Answers -- and of course, Reddit!

Proof of ID offered

So, Ask Me Anything! until 8pm EDT (now done!)

Comments: 517 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

BiggityBates130 karma

How did you catch Comcast "interfering" with your P2P data? What was their first reaction when you call them out on this? How many people did you have to talk to before they considered you a "serious threat" to their "blocking" operation?

funchords222 karma

I compared the results I was getting between using a Comcast connection and a non-Comcast connection. I used a popular testing tool called Wireshark and noted that uploads attempted over the Comcast connection were prone to be interrupted by an "RST" TCP packet -- a special reset packet that was forged by Comcast to appear that it came from the distant peer.

Comcast's first reaction was to ignore me for a few months. When Torrentfreak reported my findings several weeks later, Comcast denied it. Comcast continued to deny it until the Associated Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation independently (of me and one another) duplicated my tests and my test results.

First report May -- Lid Blown Off was October.

DrRocksoo98 karma

Why isn't net neutrality a more talked about issue? The internet isn't some fad that is going to disappear. I understand that ISP's pay big money to congressmen to make sure there isn't a net neutrality law, but you would think someone running on a campaign that includes a net neutrality law would win in a landslide, yet if I asked any one of my coworkers what it is, they would have no idea. This is something people have rioted over, but no one in the US seems to care.

funchords118 karma

This question is exactly why I am promoting this film. Net Neutrality is hard to explain -- technically and socially. Why should we care if there are basically a handful of media companies that control what we see and how we see it? There's a part in the film where DJ Jim Ladd explains what happened in radio, and now we're seeing it in the rest of media. 15 years ago, there were so many Internet Service Providers that a list of them numbered in the thousands and looked like a telephone book. Now it's more like a one-pager. Again, why should we care? It's like the frog in the pot of water, not noticing that it's about to boil. These changes happened over time and now it's beginning to really affect us.

The film does a great job with this, explaining it from many perspectives (pro and con).

DrRocksoo38 karma

Just watched the trailer and it actually looks really good.

My question is: ISP's are very rich and most are existing cable companies. Cable companies basically have a block to block monopoly, making it almost impossible for competition. Is the only answer government regulation? Is the government more trustworthy? At least you know an ISP's motivation. Is the devil you know better then the one you don't?

funchords64 karma

I'm a conservative / libertarian, so hearing myself ask for government regulation for anything is like scraping my own nails on a chalkboard.

  • The Internet is governed by The Internet Society and the Internet Engineering Task Force (those RFC folks). They lack, however, any enforcement power (and they don't want any).
  • Competitive choice would be the next option, except we hardly have any choices. If you want a 5 Mbps connection, you'll need a cablemodem (unless you're in one of those lucky FIOS cities).
  • That leaves the government as the option of last resort.

Yes, I'm apprehensive at this situation -- and the F.C.C. has shown itself as being weak and under threat. They have passed some basic protections on wireline service (not wireless service) -- but Congress may not let those stand for very long.

PrplFlavrdZombe24 karma

How do you feel about the conservative outcry against net neutrality?

Also, what do you think of internet freedom movements like the pirate party and (to an extent) anonymous?

funchords51 karma

I think it's at least half misguided. Conservatives are truly more wary of government regulation not working out as intended. I understand this. But those who think that corporations will safeguard our individual rights are missing the mark.

Pirate party = right idea, wrong name. These guys are generally copyright reformers. They need a marketing department. :-)

Anonymous = not the "above the fold" activism that I'd prefer to see. They get fired up over all the right stuff, so why not lend their names to a more vocal and legitimate response?

MissGeorgia16 karma

I agree with you and we made this film about it - been trying very hard to get the word out via social media and traditional channels but even tech heads seem to not worry enough. please check us out - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/barbershoppunk/barbershop-punk-protect-your-freedom-of-speech

funchords21 karma

We tech heads tend to be quite non-plussed by policy issues. I was really hoping that the normally stoic San Jose Mercury News crowd would treat this particular issue differently. Shame on them -- they know better.

I think I understand why, though. We have always been able to figure out a way around any roadblock. "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. (John Gilmore 1993)." Many of us feel it's not the geeks that get hurt by ISP interference, it's the non-skilled everyday user. So they care, but they care a bit less. They fail to realize that this is their innovation space that is being limited by a gatekeeper -- their future income at risk.

MissGeorgia77 karma

Hi all! I'm Georgia the writer/director of the documentary film and I'm here in case you all need me to answer anything.

funchords41 karma

Georgia, please feel free to join into any of the questions to me and give your own two centavos.

MesMeMe46 karma

Do you feel like a hero for what you discovered? freedom fighter perhaps?

funchords120 karma

Freedom fighter would be a much more accurate term. I wouldn't want to cheapen the notion of a hero by counting myself among those who risked life and health.

Laserfalcon33 karma

TIL that Net Neutrality sends cancer into remission.

funchords57 karma

Wrong kind of neutrons. :-)

FWilly32 karma

So, other than promoting this film, what do you do now?

Do you feel that anything really changed, or that the "game" simply shifted a bit?

funchords62 karma

Right now, I'm running the IT department for a hospitality chain in Massachusetts. I support the networks, servers, workstations, telephones, and etcetera for hotels, restaurants, spas and the headquarters office. I'm still active in the movement to protect our online rights, time permitting. I've also returned to singing and directing Barbershop quartet-style music.

Unfortunately, I feel that too little has changed. The FCC did pass some basic online protections for wired users, but they do not apply to wireless service -- which is, of course, the new frontier for the Internet.

funchords48 karma

... and I just want to add that I'm promoting the film on my own time, here. I'm not being compensated. I just believe in it. The documentary does a great job of explaining this -- sometimes dry and geeky -- issue.

l-jack30 karma

Of the politicians that you are aware of, who do you think is representing the topic accurately eg: Al Franken.

Unrelated but I do think its quite sad with the lack of attention this topic receives realizing its sweeping consequences.

funchords67 karma

Sen. Al Franken has this topic nailed. He not only understands exactly what Net Neutrality is, he understands it in his own context of being a performer in the era of media consolidation (such as Comcast buying NBC-Universal). Franken is a big star for our online rights. Congressman Ed Markey also knows this subject exactly right, as he used to head the subcommittee that covered the Internet and such technologies. Unfortunately, knowledge is not money. Whoever spends the most money on political campaigns and "astro-turf" groups is going to have the most influence. Right now, that's AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon.

lonely_spy21 karma

Robb, thank you for your great work and in your courage facing two C giants and defeating both. I will be checking the documentary as soon as it is available in my area and will work hard on educating myself about Net Neutrality. that.is.all.

funchords17 karma

Thank you!

mechanical_m4n17 karma

Did you go to a university/college and/or did you complete the Cisco certification exams?

If so, what level are you?

funchords27 karma

I completed some college -- I'm probably a junior if you add up the credits. My last certification classes were Novell (yes, I'm a bit older).

When I started in Software Testing, there wasn't a college track for it. I never wanted to be a developer, I had too much fun breaking things. That's where I got my experience in reading specs and testing against them.

AddisonH17 karma

Were you nervous criticizing a large corporation or going against the norm? I am an advocate of critical thinking and such, but speaking out seems to always turn out badly for me. I have learned over time to have better etiquette while whistle-blowing, but it only helps to an extent.

funchords31 karma

When this happened, I knew that I was sick (I didn't know it was cancer). I was ready to die, and I truly believed that I had nothing to lose. I also knew my results were correct and my tests were repeatable by any techie with the know-how -- I was on solid ground.

Even so, I wasn't hungry to go after Comcast -- I was really hoping that their response would be "oh really? sorry!" and that they would back off of the interference. When they ignored it and then denied it, I really hoped that it was just the head honchos that were ignorant -- but when it went on for weeks, then I knew we were in for a fight.

tamrix3 karma

Follow up question. Do you believe knowing how to program, even slightly, helps with network engineering or can you be a successful network engineer without knowing any programming at all?

funchords3 karma

I do know how to program and use network sockets in my code, but network engineers don't need to be software programmers if they have the right tools.

stubbyarea16 karma

what kind of networking equipment do you have at home?

funchords36 karma

At the time this was happening, I started with a regular Comcast High Speed Internet subscription with a cablemodem. At the height of the investigation, I also had a DSL connection and a Clearwire wireless modem. I had two routers. What broke the case open is when I used the VPN with a Brazilian ISP instead of the Comcast connection and the P2P uploads started working again.

Currently (and this may be hard to believe), I just have a Comcast HSI connection again. There just is not enough competition for me to choose someone else.

drchickenbeer21 karma

The reality of the situation is that in most markets, Comcast is the only option if you don't want dial-up. Do you think this will ever change?

funchords20 karma

Not in the short term, unfortunately.

dietotaku16 karma

what would you suggest as an alternative for a copyright holder wanting to protect their work from being shared over P2P?

funchords38 karma

Excellent question, but really not my department. My position is that we cannot break the fundamentals of the Internet in order to prevent copyright infringement.

I have, though, thought a lot about this and I think it comes down to understanding that some people will always cheat. Every baseball game has a few that come through the hole in the fence rather than pay admission. Every theater suffers someone that stays through two movies rather than pay for the second ticket. You can't fix that.

But what you can do is to make it easy for everyone else to be your customer. Price your product appropriately. Make it available in the easy-to-use format that your customer wants it AND make it permanent (avoid the hoarding instinct). The biggest reduction in P2P file sharing came when iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix streaming arrived. Most people want the high-quality official product at a reasonable price and constantly available. With this, P2P file-sharing has seen a significant reduction.

k3ilbasa12 karma

Do you see this transitioning into a full time gig? Maybe a non-profit, or working for some of the organizations already out there fighting the fight?

funchords14 karma

I worked full-time on this for two years, paid-for by the organizations "fighting the fight". They are:

I enjoyed that work, but enjoy the private sector more. A good part of my value was that I was "the guy who busted Comcast" (which is an exaggeration, since Comcast is far from busted in all respects). As the Comcast case and Net Neutrality moved from the technical questions toward political ones, I became less and less satisfied with my job in D.C.. They asked me to stay but I wanted to move on.

gbondura12 karma

Will you launch an investigation into other ISP's such as cox and verizon? Also, when politicians & FCC heard of this what did they do with the information? Ignore it?

funchords16 karma

I have looked into both Cox and Verizon DSL, but it was a few years ago. Cox was doing much the same that Comcast was. But Cox was admitting it. I don't believe Cox is using the same system anymore, and I can't test it. I was also a Verizon DSL user and didn't found anything other than their ill-advised blocking of incoming TCP port 80 (they don't want residential users running web servers).

The FCC took weeks to respond at all: elude that they might be interested in someday doing an investigation. But they did eventually officially launch one and Comcast was found to be doing exactly what I said they were doing. Comcast didn't deny the results of the investigation, but they did appeal (and win) on the basis that the FCC had no authority to regulate in that area.

TAKEitTOrCIRCLEJERK11 karma

What do you think of the effect the Internet (and, specifically, the free internet through Tor and other services) has had on the this year's Arab Spring and the Iranian uprising of 2009?

In your mind, what's the most effective means by which we can help information remain free to them?

funchords19 karma

I love this effect that the Internet has on the people of the world. Information is power and is empowering. People who understand each other are more peaceful. The Internet lets mom and pop shops compete with Walmart.

The best thing we can do over the next 20 years is to keep the qualities of the Internet that has made it a success over the past 20 years: openness, freedom to innovate, freedom to send/receive information. If we continue to insist that the Internet is not the Internet if it is censored, then the rest of the world will expect it too. But if we let companies rope-off the parts that they think they can get premium dollars for, and governments choke off the parts that disagree with their policies -- then the Internet becomes more like Cable TV.

k3ilbasa9 karma

How would you rate yourself when it comes to networking competency? The only reason I ask is because I imagine it would be daunting starting this process and not having (enough of) the know-how to back it up.

funchords9 karma

I think I'm pretty good. My first real networking was AX.25 which worked at 1200 baud over radio (had about 300 bps throughput). Traffic that slow could be analyzed by eye. That might be a humble description, because most everyday network professionals don't break down protocols -- they work on either the physical network or address it from programming layers above.

big_orange_ball9 karma

What can I do to support net neutrality and keep the power of the internet in the hands of the masses? Also, where should I go to learn of current news and information regarding the struggle against major corporations who are fighting for profit, not the best interests of the public?

funchords7 karma

If you can see the film, then see and support the film. The site http://barbershoppunk.com/ has a lot of good info on the subject. Get on the mailing lists or RSS feeds for Free Press, Public Knowledge, and The New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.

As for major corporations, OpenSecrets.org is a great site. Remember, though, this is not illegal stuff -- the Supreme Court says that these Corporations are people and the Corporations have the same unlimited First Amendment rights that you do (although they count theirs with the word Million and Billion attached). Right now, they can figuratively buy the laws that they want (just not literally).

[deleted]8 karma

Although I am very against the limitation of any type of bandwidth that is not included in the contract I sign, what is a counterpoint to the argument that throttling P2P traffic over certain ports will help protect the property of others that is being illegally reproduced and transmitted?

funchords20 karma

Counterpoint: Blocking traffic just because it is P2P or using a certain port also blocks legitimate traffic. I was trying to upload copyright-expired music and images. The Associated Press was trying to upload the King James Version of the Bible (which is in the Public Domain). Tests I performed with the EFF involved the Open Source software package OpenOffice, which was blocked by Comcast even though the transfer was legal.

practicalize7 karma

Do you see American policy and corporate posturing ever bending to the best interests of the American people?

funchords14 karma

I think the Internet will someday be key to accomplishing our goals here.

The Internet solves a lot of problems that our forefathers faced: how to run a democracy when it takes months to inform the people.

We don't have that problem anymore.

johnggault6 karma

What do you think of the Protect IP Act and are you surprised that it hasn't received a lot more attention on the net, especially on a site like Reddit?

funchords9 karma

I think the Protect IP act is dangerous. However, I do think that artists and innovators must be fairly paid for their work. Many consumers of media are ignoring the law rather than changing it to meet their needs. This is going to allow unpopular policy, like Protect IP, to get passed with little resistance.

With years in producing software products, I support IP as a legitimate market. But what the publishers and studios are doing -- quite behind the backs of their customers -- will just raise the stakes. Protect IP is incompatible with the open Internet.

MrTallFish6 karma

You are amazing for doing this. What's next for you?

funchords8 karma

I will get my bowling average above 175. My barbershop quartet will win at least 3rd place at a district competition. (I'm pretty far from both of these goals.) :-)

I just sold my house in Oregon (sad). I'm settling in to my new place and my job in Massachusetts.

MrTallFish4 karma

Were your studies Sisco heavy? I got my AAS and 14 credits till I complete my BAS.

funchords7 karma

More Software Engineering in general (Quality Assurance methods and Software Engineering managment). Congrats on your upcoming accomplishment!

jtaylor5566 karma

What was the catalyst to make you decide to test for the throttling? Did you see a significant drop off in your browsing speed or P2P transfers?

funchords4 karma

My P2P uploads weren't working. I could tell users were requesting traffic from me, but it often wasn't transferring. I wasn't sure why, at first (and thought it was something that I had configured wrong).

[deleted]5 karma

I would say Comcast is terrible, but so is every other ISP I've ever been involved with. Is there anything you can think of that we as a whole can do to improve our options for connecting to the internet?

funchords4 karma

The EFF recommends using https anywhere you can. Any time you can use a secure connection, do so. Not only does it hide your session from your ISP, it also makes it more futile for them to snoop on your connections in the future. With enough of this, they will stop investing on the technology that snoops and blocks and shapes our connections into their will.

I haven't given much love to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and I have much love for them. Along with Free Press, Public Knowledge, and Open Technology Initiative -- give support and lend an ear to the EFF. They're out there fighting for you.

Renovatio_5 karma

So you are obviously a supporter of net neutrality. But can you give me some valid points that anti-net neutrality persons have?

funchords5 karma

Some valid anti-points:

  • The government doesn't do a reliable job when it interferes in markets, all kinds of bad and unintended things happen -- or the government/regulation/rule overreaches and harms our rights or the rights of the service providers.
  • Competition is the best way to protect consumer choice. We need more competition, not more regulation.

Both of those are true, and while I have answers for them, they remain true. Government or regulation sometimes does mess up, and it might here. And Competition would be the best answer, but I don't see it on the horizon.

hhhnnnnnggggggg5 karma

Thanks man, I love you. Down in the coonass area of Louisiana we don't even have high speed options. The only one thing I can get is wireless ATT which charges out the ass for 5gb and although we're happy to pay for more, they refuse to sell us more bandwidth. There's just no other options.

Really appreciate what you did. Do you take donations? I'm sure a ton of us would tip you a bit for this.

funchords4 karma

Your thanks is thanks enough!

If you have spare money lying around and want to help the cause, check out the trailers and clips from Barbershop Punk and support the kickstarter campaign http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/barbershoppunk/barbershop-punk-protect-your-freedom-of-speech. And if you have more money lying around, become a regular contributor and follower of Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the Open Technology Initiative. And finally, although the Electronic Frontier Foundation and I part ways on Net Neutrality solutions, they are --by far-- the #1 fighters for 'Netizens' rights.

Anomonis5 karma

Interesting. Good efforts, but I believe this is a losing battle. Traffic shaping is huge now and isn't going anywhere. Where I live a large percentage of the population has a common ISP that traffic shapes.

funchords15 karma

The only evil of traffic shaping is only that it is delaying a needed network upgrade. There is demand that the network can't handle. The network itself handles congestion, so traffic shaping shouldn't really ever be necessary.

The evil of shaping some traffic and not others, now that is far more nefarious. That means the network is picking its winners and losers. It also means that developers can't trust that the network works there as it does everywhere else.

Where do you live? What's going on?

mentos4me4 karma

(Just in case someone's still answering questions.)

Is it reasonable to ask that a consumer be given the choice of using a completely "net neutral" internet or using "Comcast's Internet," or "The Corporate's Internet."

It's just that asking The Corporations to give up the control that they really, really want seems to be a hopeless and at least exhausting fight. It seems that it might be easier to give the consumer both choices at the same time.

Example: Consumer says to herself, "Self, I'd like to see what's new on the internet today so I'm going to use the net neutral version today." Or, "Self, I just don't have time to browse, I'm in a hurry, I need something fast. I'm going to log on to 'Corporate's Internet Service' and then run out and go get that coffee I need."

Is that a possible solution?

funchords4 karma

I don't have a problem with that vision, as long as the neutral version is the default option. Experiments are encouraged on the Internet, and allowing users (via their applications) to choose their prioritization method/class of service is the IETF recommended way to use class of service.

ILiedAboutTheCake4 karma

How do you feel on the rising amounts of "three strikes" policies starting to become in effect in European countries related to transferring "copyrighted" data?

Also, About 3 years ago my ISP RCN was also accused and taken to court in a class action settlement regarding trotting. After 18 months after the settlement they were allowed to throttle users again but it seems they have not taken the steps to (yet).

funchords5 karma

Three strikes has severe problems, usually in the area of the quality of the evidence against the user and the users' rights to a defense.

But if someone legitimately and fairly is convicted violating a rightsholder's distribution, then that person should not be allowed to continue doing it.

narky14 karma

[deleted]

funchords4 karma

I don't think the 'net ever guaranteed anonymity. You have to do something more to remain anonymous. It works that way in the rest of the world, too -- online and offline.

I don't seek any special protections for anonymity or prohibitions against anonymity. Anonymity is an important tool, sometimes, to tell truth to power or to non-violently let off some steam. It exists and it should continue to exist.

[deleted]4 karma

What are your thoughts on Google and their system to raise the spectrum prices when they were auctioned off so that the net and its devices were kept open? If you have any other insight into google and their war for net neutrality let us know!

funchords5 karma

Google has generally been a friend to Net Neutrality, but not always a perfect one. They've shown that Verizon -- a carrier that holds the life of Android in its hand -- can influence it. And the openness of Android itself is less than perfect.

Better than most, but not perfect.

I attribute this to a weak regulator, which leaves Verizon in charge of a mostly monopolized market. Google is just responding to the realities of that situation.

Felman4 karma

I think I met you once Robb, I worked with your daughter... If I am thinking correctly her name started with a D...

funchords4 karma

Sonic

westsan3 karma

Hi, Thanks for this. And BTW, good job there.

Question: I am in Japan. I would like to find out if my ISP is blocking any of my P2P data traffic. I do know a thing or two about networking but I am wondering what specific tools and methods you use to determine blocking/filtering? Do you have any tutorials you could reference?

funchords4 karma

Search for "Measurement Lab" and do tests from Project Glasnost. It will reliably test for the interference.

tiezep3 karma

The only big company I haven't seen doing anything bad is google. I know I'm late to this party, but what's your opinion on google? (to both the op and missgeorgia)

funchords4 karma

Here and here

[deleted]2 karma

[deleted]

funchords6 karma

Could be throttling, could be a poor-quality router with a filled-up NAT table (these take time to clear). Try using a software firewall and connecting your gaming computer directly to your broadband modem (no router). If the problem goes away, then it's a bad router.

If you can compare notes with other users of your ISP, that's extremely helpful too.