Verizon, with a single announcement Friday, executed a crafty public-relations hat trick.
The telco said it tested a new system designed to keep peer-to-peer traffic off the backbone networks of the Internet. Verizon discussed its experiment with P4P, developed by researchers at Yale and the University of Washington, which more intelligently directs P2P traffic to local peers instead of letting software like BitTorrent try to suck data willy-nilly from all over the world.
The idea: Instead of Frank in Hoboken, N.J., trying to get pieces of Pirates of the Caribbean from, well, the Caribbean (or Singapore or Russia or Antarctica), P4P tries its darndest to find that data as close to home as possible (say, from computers in Connecticut or Philadelphia). Verizon claimed that using P4P, 58% of peer-to-peer traffic came from nearby P2P users on its network, compared with 6% before.
This PR move, ostensibly about a technology trial, is smart on three fronts:
(a) It helps Verizon lobby against Net Neutrality regulations, by trying to show the FCC and Congress that technology will let ISPs keep pace with rising bandwidth demands without the need for government interference;
(b) Verizon positions itself as a cooperative, pro-consumer good guy — a post about the test on the telco’s policy blog is titled "Net Congestion: Working Together to Solve Problems" – i.e., unlike certain other broadband providers (coughComcastcough) that have been called on the carpet by federal policymakers for putting the thumbscrews on P2P file-sharing when it starts chewing up all the available bandwidth on the network.
(c) Verizon appears to anticipate content owners’ concerns by pointing out there are legit uses of peer-to-peer technology. The press release notes that NBC is using P2P, as part of its NBC Direct episode-download service. NBC is an especially good example to use since it has been a vocal critic of P2P networks used to swap copyrighted material, urging the FCC last year to require broadband providers to prevent video piracy.
"No longer the dark-alley distribution system for unauthorized file sharing, advanced P2P delivery networks link content-seekers with licensed files they want… P2P is being mainstreamed by distributors like NBC Universal," Verizon’s announcement said.
Ultimately Verizon seems to be saying: Since we can’t get rid of peer-to-peer, let’s try to make it more efficient. That’s a savvier political move than simply trying to defend existing network management practices as "reasonable", isn’t it?