Panelists: Peer-to-Peer Needn't Spark Fear

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Although it's been maligned because of Napster Inc. and other infamous file-sharing services, peer-to-peer content delivery doesn't have to be a dirty phrase for the cable industry, according to experts on a Western Show panel.

While it could offer great benefits in terms of efficiently shipping popular content around the edge of cable networks, peer-to-peer's soiled reputation, security concerns and a foggy business case have presented the technology with more than a few challenges.

"Right now, it is a great technology in search of a business model," said Gartner Group senior analyst for emerging platforms and media P.J. McNealy.

Peer-to-peer file transfer allows users to share content directly with each other, instead of tapping a central server farm. That could prove an efficient way to move content around on a network, but the idea still raises red flags with content providers who fear the piracy abuses Napster produced.

"What you get is a total loss of server-based control of content, and that's what they are really wigged out about," said Talal Shamoon, executive vice president of business development at InterTrust, a digital-rights-management provider.

For that reason, he suggested that the set-top — which already carries conditional-access software — might be the best place for the cable industry to begin offering peer-to-peer file sharing services.

Cable operators who employ peer-to-peer technology would face network-management issues. That's because large files would shoot around the edge network, where bandwidth is more limited, and because the content could be used as a Trojan horse to enter via cable modems or set-top boxes and destroy customers' hard drives.

Despite these issues, if cable operators are reluctant to add peer-to-peer content delivery, they face the threat that content providers themselves will outmaneuver them in the delivery game, according to Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO of file sharing start-up Red Swoosh Inc.

"Cable companies better start offering solutions for these entertainment companies; otherwise the entertainment companies will start to get smart about running these solutions themselves," he said. "They will be able to pierce the toll booth and get past the cable operators without paying."

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