Comcast Pledges to Help BitTorrent, Not Hinder It

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Looking to rehabilitate its image on handling peer-to-peer network traffic, Comcast announced it will work with file-sharing software distributor BitTorrent and others to make P2P applications work more efficiently over the operator’s broadband networks.

Comcast, as part of the shift in policy, said it would migrate by year-end 2008 to a bandwidth-management technique that is “protocol agnostic.”

Instead of throttling back traffic for specific applications like BitTorrent, Comcast will impose traffic limits only on those users who consume the most bandwidth.

Tony Werner, Comcast’s chief technology officer, said in a statement that this will require the operator “to rapidly reconfigure our network management systems, but the outcome will be a traffic-management technique that is more appropriate for today's emerging Internet trends.”

Comcast’s treatment of P2P traffic has boiled over in the last few months, sparked by an Associated Press investigation in October that found the operator was delaying some upstream BitTorrent file transfers.

Subsequently, Comcast was attacked by users of peer-to-peer software and public interest groups – and sued by at least two high-speed Internet subscribers  – over its practice of delaying certain P2P traffic during times of peak congestion.

The Federal Communications Commission, which watchdog groups asked to force Comcast to stop throttling back P2P traffic, is investigating the operator’s practices and expects to issue a ruling by June 30.

Previously, Comcast’s stance on the questions of P2P throttling has been to insist that it does not block any applications or Web sites, and that it only employs “reasonable” network management practices in accordance with FCC policy.

With the new strategy, Comcast is attempting to bolster its case against “Net Neutrality” legislation that would make it illegal for Internet service providers to provide preferential treatment to certain customers or applications.

Both BitTorrent and Comcast said their goal is to resolve the technical issues through private business discussions without the need for government intervention.

"BitTorrent and Comcast can serve consumers best by working together along with the broader ISP and Internet community to jointly develop more efficient networks and applications," said BitTorrent CEO Doug Walker. "This should prove to be a productive partnership that will provide consumers with a better Internet experience. 

BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer-based applications account for most of the traffic that traverses broadband networks, and according to some estimates upwards of 90% of the content exchanged on P2P networks is pirated.

Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas noted that the company is working with BitTorrent as well as other peer-to-peer experts, Internet service providers and members of the Internet Engineering Task Force. Comcast said it has been discussing the new bandwidth-management policy with members of “the Internet community” for several months.

In announcing its collaboration with Comcast, BitTorrent said it acknowledged the need of Internet service providers to manage their networks, especially during times of peak congestion.

"While we think there were other management techniques that could have been deployed, we understand why Comcast and other ISPs adopted the approach that they did initially,” BitTorrent CTO Eric Klinker said in a statement. “Recognizing that the Web is richer and more bandwidth intensive than it has been historically, we are pleased that Comcast understands these changing traffic patterns and wants to collaborate with us to migrate to techniques that the Internet community will find to be more transparent.”

Also as part of the P2P initiative, Comcast said it plans to double the upstream capacity of its residential Internet service in several “key markets” by the end of 2008. The operator did not identify those markets. Comcast has said it expects to deploy “wideband” DOCSIS 3.0 service to up to 20% of the households in its markets by year-end.

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