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
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.
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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.
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
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
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
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.