Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Comcast, TimeWarner, BitTorrent, and network neutrality

As the FCC proceeds with its investigation into Comcast's blocking of BitTorrent uploads by broadband subscribers, it's interesting to note the different approach that Time Warner Cable has selected to deal with the same issue.
Comcast, intent on alienating both its customers and the FCC, argues that a "very small number of broadband users employ certain (peer-to-peer) protocols that utilize immense amounts of bandwidth in ways that are unpredictable and inconsistent and that can threaten to overwhelm network capacity and harm the online experience of other users. That is why, even with continuous upgrades and constant investment, the fact remains that network capacity is not - and never will be - unlimited."
Time Warner Cable, while supporting Comcast's arguments regarding network management, does not engage in any blocking or slowing down of traffic itself, instead announcing that it may start charging higher fees to heavy bandwidth users later this year.
Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of BitTorrent, said that in an average month, over 40 million people use its software, a fact he said refutes Comcast's argument that the issue is about a small number of people using software applications like it.
The most insightful comments came from Marvin Ammori, general counsel at the public interest group Free Press, who suggested that network operators like Comcast are facing the reality that the Internet hasn't developed how they thought it would. He observed that when Comcast was building the bulk of its network, it bet on the fact that most of the traffic would be downstream, or into customers' households. As file-sharing applications grow in popularity, Internet service providers are having to fall back on network management as a way to ensure their networks don't collapse under the weight of customer-generated content.

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