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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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June 25, 2008 9:27 AM

VidChat: Busting Misconceptions of Piracy, Bandwidth Hogs, and Net Neutrality with BitTorrent

On this latest edition of App-Rising.com's VidChat I sat down with Eric Klinker, CTO of BitTorrent.

I've been eager to engage them in a discussion as in addition to being responsible for driving a whole lot of demand for bandwidth, they're also a company whose business intersects the heart of a lot of telecom policy discussions.

But too often they're talked about instead of heard from, and as a result I often encounter misconceptions about what they do, and I worry that lack of information is not allowing for informed policy decisions.

So here's an opportunity to get them engaged with the Great Broadband Debate, starting with busting through some of these misconceptions about piracy, bandwidth hogs, and net neutrality.


Now some followup:

- If we didn't do enough to explain what P2P is and how it works, here's a Wikipedia article that helps flesh things out. And if you want to learn more about BitTorrent in particular, here's the Wikipedia article about it.

- A recent survey by Sandvine, makers of technology that allows network operators to manage bandwidth hogs, showed that P2P is responsible for 44% of Internet traffic. But here's something even more eye-opening: upstream P2P consumes more than twice as much bandwidth as all other traffic combined. (More on this soon as it deserves a post of its own.)

- Eric's point about BitTorrent being a protocol like HTTP is an important one. It alludes to the fact that it isn't just another application, it's a fundamental part of the Internet.

- If you're interested in trying out a BitTorrent client, here's a list of available ones.

- In our piracy discussion, Eric makes the strong argument that the problem with piracy isn't the protocol, it's what publishers choose to do with it. Just because people also use HTTP for piracy doesn't mean we should be going on a witch hunt to fight its use, instead the focus needs to be on affecting how people use it.

- Also important to note is that BitTorrent is being used to legally distribute all sorts of content. As Eric mentions, everyone from small artists needing an economical way to get their content out there, to large government institutions like NASA to move around large datasets, even to the big media companies who recognize that P2P can be a great way to reach their audience. Plus he mentions the fact that the BitTorrent protocol is beginning to get embedded into other apps, like the popular online game World of Warcraft, which uses it to distribute software updates to its users.

- In talking about their users as "bandwidth hogs" Eric suggested a similar sentiment to what I did recently in this post that today's bandwidth hog is tomorrow's average user.

- I also loved his comment on how what was considered a bandwidth hog in 1987 is probably laughable today. And I concur: the thought did make me laugh.

- Then we got into BitTorrent's stance on net neutrality, which is basically that they support the spirit of NN, acknowledging that BitTorrent wouldn't have been created without the principles of an open network in place.

But when I asked him about whether or not BitTorrent needed NN legislation in order to protect their business interests and make their model work, he deferred, first claiming that as a technologist the world of legislation and regulation is a bit beyond them, but then striking a cautionary note.

He postulated that if legislation is the right approach, the question becomes whether or not it can keep up with the pace of technological change. He then went on to state that he believes it to be preferable to let market forces keep working. He bases this stance on his belief that consumers want an open network, so if there is sufficient competition the market will play out accordingly.

So this all suggests that despite BitTorrent's name being used to justify the need for NN legislation, that BitTorrent itself has a more nuanced stance that embraces the spirit of NN but questions the need for legislation.

- Finally, I found the final bit of this interview very interesting, when Eric acknowledged that not all traffic is created equal and shared that BitTorrent has been hard at work developing congestion control technology that allows P2P and more latency-sensitive applications coexist in harmony.

He went on to share that where he sees the future isn't in making decisions in the network regarding what bits should have priority over another, but instead empowering individual users to decide what bits are more important to them than others.

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