My ISP and Me – How your Internet Service Provider Keeps an Eye on File-Sharing

A recount of what it’s like to have a run in with your ISP over file-sahring.

I’m sure many of you have wondered how and why your Internet Service Provider (ISP) monitors your file-sharing activity. Well, I know a guy who knows a guy, wink, wink, with first-hand experience of what they keep an eye and why. It’s pretty straightforward actually, and harks back to the Wild West days of Napster and Kazaa. So break out your pen and paper and jot down these tips to prevent you and your ISP from getting to know each other on a first name basis.

This guy I know has experienced their “wrath” two times thus far in the last 4 months, all this after some 2 plus years with not so much as a peep from the powers that be. Each time he has gleaned more and more info as to what they’re looking for and why.

First and foremost, as was made clear in the Kazaa cases and is still pertinent today, is that those who are making cases against individuals for “illegal” file-sharing do so under the context of what you “share,” i.e. upload. It is the “sharing” of files that constitutes copyright infringement. Thus, it is naturally the “uploading” one does that has been made in issue by those organizations pressuring ISPs to comply with copyright law.

When my friend was first contacted by his ISP it was done with an internet “lockout,” his browser reduced to little more than a street corner billboard informing anyone who cares that the standards of practice have been violated and internet access suspended.

To summarize, the notice stated that the individual’s bandwidth in question has been “overused,” and that this was symptomatic of the use of file-sharing services like “Morpheus, Kazza, Limewire, and Grokster,” (yuck, yuck, yuck, and more yuck). This was probably the oddest part of the whole affair as how can one “overuse” their bandwidth? I mean if you pay for a 512kB/s download speed and a 58kB/s upload speed, shouldn’t you get to do what you please with it? It smacks me of false-advertising, the notion that you get “X” amount of bandwidth but better not use it all.

The note went on to say something to the effect of “Thus, in an effort to ensure that precious bandwidth is not being ‘wasted,’ this account has been temporarily suspended until you contact one of our members in the Internet Security Dept. at 1-800-XXX-XXXX. For reference purposes use this security code.”

After contacting their Internet “Security” Dept, he was astonished to learn what it was all about and why they had decided to suddenly make an issue of it. What had happened to wreak their ire? Well, upon talking with the gentleman he informed him that they routinely monitor residential accounts that upload data in excess of 1GB p/day. This was a key piece of gleaned info, as per what was mentioned previously, it is the UPLOADING of certain files that is what constitutes copyright infringement. It occurred around the holidays, and so I suspect it was part of a preemptive Oscar’s “screener” sweep that caused his account to raise eyebrows behind the mighty ISP’s internet security desk.

In seeking to explain this “mysterious” upload rate, he used the ruse that his router lacked WEP encryption and thus was probably some random user who had logged on and used his connection for such “evil” purposes. It worked, of course, and the connection was reinstated.

But, several months later, just recently in fact, he encountered the same thing, his connection was locked and so told to call the Internet “Security” Dept. once again. This time things weren’t quite so smooth sailing. Figuring that the router story wouldn’t fly again, he used the explanation that he was running a WinAmp Shoutcast server several times a week and that was the cause for his bandwidth usage. The guy’s reply was that a “business” account may better serve his needs, an answer that actually made him angry for the first time.

USER: “So let me get this straight, I get 58kB/s upload bandwidth but I can’t use it all?”
ISP: “Uh, actually no, if you read the service contract you received when you signed up for our high speed internet service you would see that the bandwidth is subject to limitations. It is not meant to be used in a way that maxes it out continuously,” the ISP guy replied.
USER: “So then why is the total amount of download bandwidth not an issue and just the upload is?”
ISP: “Sir, if you read the service contract it says everything you need to know.”
USER: “Um, is it online, because to tell you the truth I tossed it 2 seconds after I subscribed, and that was like 2 years ago.”
“ISP: Go to our website, you can find it there.”

Well, he never found it there or anywhere else, so it remains a mystery as to what exactly their company’s policy is in detail. But, he does have his internet access still, at least for the time-being.

Moreover, his solution to the problem was to try and minimize what he downloads from “registered user” BitTorrent sites, i.e. Demonoid, TorrentTit, etc., in order to preserve his share ratios, and try to use public sites like Torrent Spy and Pirate Bay more often. Now this isn’t a perfect solution, as one has the tracker loaded just long enough to download the file and not to share it to that magic “1.0.” It disturbs the whole zen-like balance in the BitTorrent universe, but hey, what are you gonna do if the “Man’s” after you?

At the risk of sounding redundant, it’s all about the ULPOAD, UPLOAD, UPLOAD. This is what the RIAA, MIAA, and whoever else with a copyright infringement axe to grind uses to unleash the hounds on you. I can’t stress this enough.