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AppRising delivers insight into new broadband applications, exploring their impact on networks and their implications for public policy.

AppRising is written by Geoff Daily, who covers broadband applications and the business of online video. Based in Washington, DC, Geoff regularly advises applications developers, network operators, community leaders, and public officials on how to maximize adoption and use of the Internet.

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October 29, 2007 12:04 PM

More from the Comcast Brouhaha...

The fallout from the news that Comcast is officially interfering with P2P traffic continues to grow.

It's officially hit Congress now.

Here's an article in large part about a conversation the author had with Representative Rick Boucher, D-VA.

And there's been called for by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, which will look into whether Comcast's actions represent legitimate business practices or were in fact unfair and anti-competitive.

While Comcast is denying blocking any P2P traffic they do admit to delaying it under the premise that by doing so they're protecting the user experience of non-P2P using customers on the network.

But I think there's something fundamentally off about their perspective on this matter, as evidenced by a chat log I found between a techie user trying to get his P2P to work and a Comcast representative, found here.

It's an interesting conversation likely worth reading if you want to keep up on these matters (though as a warning, it is a bit lengthy.)

What really caught my eye was Comcast's attitude towards P2P, as evidenced in the following quotes:

"Considering most P2P usage is for acquiring illegal material, there is no harm in any possible traffic delaying. Any legit files that might be available on P2P software is usually available for standard download on the appropriate websites also..."

"If comcast is actually delaying P2P traffic to help deter illegal activities, I would think of that as a good thing. P2P was initially created for the sole purpose of illegal file distribution once napster was sued..."

"If someone decides to only use bit-torrent to distribute legit stuff they are probably only hurting themselves in regards to making that software widely known..."

"Comcast is able to do whatever they wish on their network. If there is traffic allocations setup to deter people from seeding within our network, then that is something which we can do on our network. Those people who are looking for such files can get them from other seeders anyways outside out network, where available..."

"As you mentioned you are still able to download whatever files you wish without issues. If our traffic allocation is not setup for inbound P2P at this time then at least you can still get the files you want from the P2P network..."

So let's parse this out for a minute.

First, they're trotting out the tired claims about P2P being all about distributing content illegally. While the majority of that traffic still does skirt the law, a growing amount of that traffic is being used for legal video and software distribution. Additionally, I'd argue with the claim that P2P was developed initially and solely for illegal activities. The fundamental roots of the Internet are a P2P network, long before people were trading songs and movies.

Second, they're claiming that since the user was able to download the files he wanted from another source, that there is no problem, despite the user's inability to participate in a P2P network.

Third, along these lines, when the user pushes about his desire to seed a P2P network, or become a node for upload files in addition to his desire to download, Comcast basically says: not on our network you don't, and besides, aren't there plenty of people on other networks who can do the seeding?

What is all this saying? That Comcast had decided to disallow P2P networks on their system. That they will not recognize P2P traffic as a legitimate use of their network, no matter what content is being distributed.

Yet despite all this, when we look back on the question of does what they're doing constitute unfair or unacceptable business practices, there's not necessarily a clearcut answer.

What they're doing isn't precisely what the spectre of net neutrality has been warning about: Comcast is not slowing down one type of traffic so that another has a competitive advantage.

What they're arguing is that P2P is a threat to their network, that P2P rarely supports legitimate traffic, and that therefore they must restrict its use in order to ensure a continued high quality user experience for their users.

Now, if Comcast were to be slowing down one P2P protocol in favor of another, or slowing down P2P traffic that's directly competing with a business of their own, then we're firmly in the arena of Internet neutrality.

But what they're really doing has more to do with the issue of network neutrality and what rights they have to manage traffic on their network.

So it'll be interesting to watch how all this plays out as the more I think about it the less clear who's legally in the right in this matter becomes.

Yet I can say one thing: no matter who's right or wrong, we must do everything we can to find a path to reconciliation between network operators and P2P developers. P2P is a revolutionary category of protocols and technologies that holds tremendous potential to create new efficiencies in the distribution of content, in particular very large files.

Having one of the largest Internet providers in the country up and decide to stop allowing it on their network is an extremely unfortunate happening and I hope we're all able to work together to find a way through this quagmire in the very near future.


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