Comcast & BitTorrent Announcement

You may have noticed that BitTorrent and Comcast have agreed to work together to improve co-existence. The Wall St. Journal is reporting the significant detail:

Rather than slow traffic by certain types of applications — such as file-sharing software or companies like BitTorrent — Comcast will slow traffic for those users who consume the most bandwidth, said Comcast’s Mr. Warner. Comcast hopes to be able to switch to a new policy based on this model as soon as the end of the year, he added. The company’s push to add additional data capacity to its network also will play a role, he said. Comcast will start with lab tests to determine if the model is feasible.

No details are out on the changes to be made on the BitTorrent side so far.

This is a huge announcement as it cuts off FCC chairman Kevin Martin at the knees, and does so in advance of his scheduled lynching in Palo Alto. If Comcast and BitTorrent can work together to resolve their problems with technical solutions (as I advocated at the FCC hearing at Harvard), there’ no predicate for new regulations or enforcement actions.

It’s a setback for the public interest lobby, and they’re taking it pretty hard. Public Knowledge in particular still calls for heavy regulation and increased FCC involvement in network management practices. It’s almost laughable:

Even in the best-case scenario for a Comcast/BitTorrent partnership, Comast is not the only one engaging in this sort of behavior. The FCC must make it clear that these types of practices are unlawful and against public policy, and that they will not be tolerated, now or in the future.

Free Press is also quite upset:

This agreement does nothing to protect the many other peer-to-peer companies from blocking, nor does it protect future innovative applications and services. Finally, it does nothing to prevent other phone and cable companies from blocking. Innovators should not have to negotiate side deals with phone and cable companies to operate without discrimination. The Internet has always been a level playing field, and we need to keep it that way.

You’d think BitTorrent had been bought off by Comcast, and no longer deserves to be adored as an “innovative new application.”

BitTorrent, Inc. is willing to modify their code to make it more manageable, but the pirates who use BitTorrent open source and Vuze won’t be, so the cat-and-mouse game between legal and illegal uses of P2P will continue. BitTorrent, Inc. won’t be affected, however, and that’s progress.

The agreement shows once again that technical solutions to technical problems are better than political ones. It’s unfortunate for the public interest lobby that this issue is no longer a cause for grandstanding, but they’ll recover. And in the meantime, the 60% of American broadband consumers who use cable to connect to the Internet will have a faster pipe that they’ll be able to use without being hogged out by their neighbors.

It’s a win for everybody.

Go to CNet for Declan McCullagh’s detailed interview with Comcast’s Joe Waz.

The FCC commissioners have all issued statements, the best of which is this one from Commissioner McDowell:

The private sector is the best forum to resolve such disputes. Today’s announcement obviates the need for any further government intrusion into this matter.


UPDATE: See this post for some detail on what’s afoot.

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