Comcast agrees to stop picking on BitTorrent

ISP says it will stop targeting individual protocols for traffic-shaping by mid-year

Comcast announced this week that it has decided to stop targeting such P2P protocols as BitTorrent when managing network traffic.

In a reversal of its previous practices, Comcast says its traffic-management practices will not target individual protocols for traffic-shaping by the middle of this year. In return, BitTorrent says it acknowledges the need for ISPs to manage their networks during peak congestion hours, and it will work with other companies to develop more efficient P2P technology that will place less of a burden on network architecture.

BitTorrent is already a part of the Distributed Computer Industry Association's P4P working group, which has been testing "intelligent routing" P2P that actively guides the selection of file sources and network pathways, rather than simply downloading large chunks of data from sources wherever they can be found without regard to network efficiency.

Ashwin Navin, BitTorrent's president and co-founder, says his company has been negotiating with Comcast for more than two years on traffic-management issues, and that the recent media attention to Comcast's traffic-management practices has served as "a catalyst" to announce the two companies' collaboration.

"We are particularly enthusiastic about Comcast's commitment to make their network management protocol agnostic -- neutral to all applications -- as well as their efforts to upgrade broadband speeds for both downstream and upstream traffic," Navin says. "We will optimize our application to take advantage of their network upgrades and share those techniques with the broader Internet community."

Comcast has been under fire from such advocacy groups as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press since last October when the Associated Press reported that the company was actively interfering with some of its customers' ability to share files online.

Essentially, the AP has reported, Comcast has been employing technology that is activated when a user attempts to share a complete file with another user through such P2P technologies as BitTorrent and Gnutella. As the user is uploading the file, Comcast sends a message to both the uploader and the downloader telling them there has been an error within the network and that a new connection must be established. Because the message sent to users does not appear to be sent directly from Comcast, many critics have accused Comcast of sending forged or spoofed packets that they say are deceiving to consumers.

Last month, Comcast also came under criticism at an FCC hearing on broadband-network management practices. For instance, panelist Tim Wu, a professor of law at Columbia University and a regular columnist at Slate, said Comcast shouldn't be in the business of telling its users how to use lawful applications.

Meanwhile, panelist Marvin Ammori, the general counsel for Free Press, accused Comcast of engaging in anticompetitive behavior, noting that such applications as BitTorrent can be used to deliver on-demand movies that Comcast charges customers for in its cable services.

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