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ISPs can take action based on the types of things you do on your internet connection. Turning off the modem might be possible, but unlikely.

Is it possible for an ISP to physically shut down your dsl modem remotely to stop you from using bittorrent?

Specifically, I use bittorrent to download files and sometimes (not all the time) a few seconds after I start a download and it ramps up to top speed, my modem's status light stops blinking, my dsl link light goes out and I have to turn my modem off then back on in order to reconnect to the internet. I never have troubles with my internet connection while gaming (I play World of Warcraft) or surfing websites. Ever. This happens only when I download using bittorrent, though I haven't tried using other download programs or protocols.

It depends on the modem, but I can certainly see it as being possible.

But I don't see it as being likely. ISPs have other ways of dealing with bittorrent, if they're going to care about it.

I think something else is more likely.

The interesting thing about bittorrent is that when allowed to run "full speed" it can pretty much saturate your internet connection. By that I mean that you can be both uploading and downloading at your connection's maximum capacity.

That's a fairly unique and uncommon situation. Everything else you've described, even World of Warcraft, doesn't put anywhere near that kind of load on an internet connection.

"... it certainly is possible that your ISP might have the ability to remotely shut down your modem. ... The question is would they?"

What I'd be more suspicious of is a line or modem problem. By trying to push the maximum amount of data through your connection you might be pushing the modem into failure. It might have a problem that normally it can recover from so you'd never notice, but at maximum capacity it can't. Similarly, you might have a line noise problem - the telephone lines that carry your DSL connection often have small amounts of electrical noise. Once again, it's possible that your modem is able to compensate during "normal" usage, but can't deal with it at maximum capacity.

Now, I have to admit it certainly is possible that your ISP might have the ability to remotely shut down your modem. They often do have the ability to remotely administer it, so shutting down doesn't seem like that far-fetched an ability. The question is would they?

In my opinion they have other, less drastic ways of dealing with bittorrent.

The problem with bittorrent, from an ISPs point of view, is the same as what I mentioned above: you're maximizing your use of your internet connection. That places an additional burden on the ISPs infrastructure, as they typically aren't built out with enough capacity to actually handle the majority of their users using maximum capacity. As a result, their ability to serve all their customers can be adversely affected by those few who do run bittorrent.

Lest you think they should just build out more capacity, consider the cost - which they would then have to pass on to their customers, meaning you. It's a common, and accepted design approach. Even the telephone company has this same restriction; if everyone picked up their phone at the exact same time the telephone infrastructure could not handle the load. We occasionally see this at times of natural disasters. The good news it that the maximum load scenario is uncommon and things work just fine the rest of the time.

The same is true of the internet infrastructure. If everyone maxed out their connection then it would likely work for no one.

All that being said, the ISPs have other ways of dealing with things like bittorrent that, while somewhat controversial, avoid the all-or-nothing approach of turning you off.

  • Throttling: the most common approach is for an ISP to identify the specific packets making up your bittorrent connection, and slow them down. Much like in most bittorrent clients you can instruct the application to use no more than a certain amount of bandwidth, ISPs typically have the ability to do the same. The effect is that your bittorrent transfers will be slower than they could be, but the rest of your internet experience, and that of other customers, is largely unaffected.

  • Blocking: an extreme measure is to simply block bittorrent traffic completely. Some ISPs terms of service prohibit it, and they can do that by identifying bittorrent traffic and simply refusing to pass it on. The net effect to you is that bittorrent simply doesn't work.

  • Disruption: this is a very controversial approach we've heard about in the press in recent months. It's basically a form of throttling, but instead of slowing down your traffic some of the many connections used by the bittorrent protocol are simply and randomly dropped. The net effect is similar to throttling: your bittorrent transfers are slower.

All of these are just as complex as shutting down your modem when bittorrent traffic is identified, and since they're less disruptive on other internet usage I'd expect ISPs to rely on them instead.

The bottom line: check with your ISP. Read the terms of service and see specifically what is, and is not, allowed. If you find that bittorrent traffic is disallowed, and especially if that's backed up with technology to slow or disrupt it, then your only real option is to find a different ISP that will allow you to use it.

Article C3488 - September 1, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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14 Comments
Ray
September 2, 2008 11:19 AM

Another method I've seen, which my ISP has been employing for a couple of years and is a variant of disruption, is forced assigned IP address change.

Most broadband users are dynamically assigned an IP address by their ISP every time they connect. Usually this address doesn't change during an online session: most ISPs specify a minimum "time out" period over which the address is "guaranteed" not to change, typically 24 hours.

If an ISP detects traffic that they don't like, or just an extended period of high volume, they can force your assigned IP address to change. This will terminate most P2P connections like Skype and force bit torrent clients to re-initialize their peer connections.

Mike
September 3, 2008 8:24 AM

uTorrent can encrypt your bittorrent traffic, so your ISP won't recognize them (I don't know for other clients).

That can help some, but there are other techniques ISPs can use to analyse your traffic besides looking at the content of your packets. (Port usage analysis and blocking are the next most common.)

-Leo

Chris
September 3, 2008 6:26 PM

Make sure you aren't using the default port in your torrent application. Same goes if you are running any type of server. Most ISP's don't like servers and file sharing applications and will block all default ports that are used. A likely port to be blocked is Port 21 (for FTP Servers) and so on.

RJ
September 9, 2008 1:15 PM

Another thing to note is that you can manually throttle Bittorrent so that it does not consume your full bandwidth. The settings vary from program to program, but if the problem is related to your modem crashing due to high usage, I'd recommend trying to lower Bittorrent's output first.

Jacqueline G Scott
December 19, 2008 4:32 PM

So from what I have read so far is that my dsl provider can shut down my ip because I'm using a bittorrent program which has happen to me and then I have to wait aleast 2 hrs to get back on is there anything I can do to prevent this

Switch providers? Contact your provider and see if there's a service class you could pay for that would allow you to use your connection more heavily? I'm sure that the bittorrent folks have ways to disguise the bittorrent connections as well.
- Leo
20-Dec-2008

Christy
January 24, 2009 6:37 AM

My ISP turn off my internet connection because of bittorent downloading. They informed me a Paramount monitor had contacted them stating I was downloading movies via bittorent. I was informed to remove my torrent downloading program & given a 1st offense warning!

chris
August 25, 2009 5:12 PM

i was given the same warning isp turn off my connection same as christy.

Ajax
November 18, 2009 1:38 AM

My service was shut down. I had an actiontec PK5000 wireless router recently installed. The service was temorarily shut down, and I received a 1st warning phone call from a man who said I was downloading copyrighted media files. I asked him what files, and he said, ones you do not have the copyright to, like movies and music. He was unwilling to give specifics. I spoke to a friend who told me that ISPs ARE allowed to search your physical hardrive up to 3 files deep. He also said I had to undownload all these files. I said, what do you mean, undownload, don't you mean erase? undownloading is impossible." He said" you have to undownload these files"
Anyhow, now I am paranoid and [edited] deep in research on what these people can see on my computer and trying to figure out if I can get away with any torrent use at all... Encryption... tor??? Throttling uploads... not sure what will work. What if one of these media companies is spying on me via a piece of spyware??? Is any of this espionage legal, and if so, why?

Aley
January 12, 2010 8:51 AM

I had my internet connection shut down for similar reasons my cable company turned my connection off not because of my downloading any information but because someone had taken a movie off from my pc... She did however list off several things I had just downloaded kind of scarry that they track every little thing.

schism
March 3, 2010 3:22 AM

my isp left a voice mail saying warner brothers claimed i had violated a copyright and the isp was disabling my modem. i am to call and speak to the customer service and given some kind of id code. i still have internet connection but it is painfully slow. is the limitation specifically in my "modem"? or can i go to walmart and buy the same model and problem solved?

You need to speak with your ISP.
Leo
03-Mar-2010

Darkice
April 21, 2010 10:10 PM

MY ISP Did the Same Thing, I got up in the morning brewed my coffee sat down to watch my morning youtubes and the net was off with a message saying My net had been disable and to contact customer Service, I did and they told me 2 movie files had been reported DL on my IP, I was told to Uninstall Torrent Software then call them back and if file sharing was off they would reconnect me, seems off that they can force you to Uninstall a legal Program or track your downloads talk about invasion of privacy, not to mention I run an Open Wifi, so it could have been any one who DL off my IP..

You probably gave them the right when you accepted their terms of service. Another lesson: don't run an open WiFi.
Leo
23-Apr-2010

rewrite
July 7, 2010 10:01 AM

That is a load of bull. Nobody, I mean nobody, has remote access to anybody's computer. First of all in order for them to go to your hard drive they need root access (or admin if on windoze). Second, you need software to even allow remote desktop viewing. Third, and the fail-safe, you need to accept a prompt that says they're about to rape your computer. They cant do that whether you did something illegal or not, because to begin, that's violating "cyber crime" laws. All your ISP has control of is your Connection, and that is all. No more. If they do decide to break into your computer, that is cracking by definition. If they did this all the time, ISPs would get sued here and there. Because it is just as illegal. But this wouldn't happen.. You people are getting calls from Warner Bros., or some other company trying to scare you.

Blueblood
August 3, 2010 8:43 PM

Isp's dont need remote access or physical access to your pc. As an isp is in a way a toll booth on a highway. They can see all the traffic running through from a(source# to b#isp# arriving at c#consumer). No way of cloaking your activities from them, as not all websites encrpt data for delivery.

You can encrypt all your traffic through your ISP with a VPN. The VPN service, of course, can see your traffic.
Leo
07-Aug-2010

PissedOffConsumer
August 4, 2010 11:46 AM

My ISP locked my modem this morning actually, due to file sharing, they said it was unfare for me to use that much bandwith.

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