Guest post: Are ISPs coming to terms with P2P?

Let's face it, peer to peer file sharing — P2P — is one of the big attractions of broadband Internet connections. Sometimes it's for downloading the latest version of a Linux distro, while other times it's for other, somewhat legally dubious reasons.

Either way, there's no denying that BitTorrent in particular is extremely popular in Australia.

How ISPs deal with the legal and technical questions raised by P2P file sharing has been the source of a number of controversies over the years. One notable one is the case of US ISP Comcast. Comcast restricted the speed of P2P file sharing in a move that helped stoke the debate about 'net neutrality' — the principle that all net traffic should be treated equally by service providers. (Of course attempts to throttle P2P traffic are vulnerable to a number of workarounds...)

In the past, Australian ISP Exetel has openly admitted to throttling P2P. However, an e-mail sent out to Exetel customers on October 7 revealed a change in how the ISP would treat P2P.

The newsletter explains: "Our initial 'protection' against P2P downloads swamping peak time bandwidth was the introduction (from the second month of our being in business of the 'free' off peak period) which encourages our customers to use low bandwidth usage times of the night to start file downloads."

Exetel's second "bandwidth control phase" was to install hardware that could identify P2P packets. Phase three was setting up P2P caching. Now, however, the ISP intends to use its hardware for managing P2P in a different manner, according to the newsletter — using it to maintain adequate bandwidth for non-P2P data while removing speed constraints from P2P downloads. Exetel says the changes it is making will result in increased speed for P2P downloads. Is this a sign that Australian ISPs are beginning to come to terms with the 'curse of P2P', as the Exetel newsletter dubs it?

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Rohan Pearce

Rohan Pearce

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