Comcast's decision to cooperate with peer-to-peer (P2P) platform provider BitTorrent is a surprise that has the potential to shift the political debate and alter the technical landscape.
Early reaction pointed to two possible reasons the cable operator did an about face. Some commentators said that the company is cutting its losses and seeking a graceful way out of a sticky situation. Others -- and the groups are not mutually exclusive -- feel that Comcast saw the issue as a competitive loser against Verizon, which already has said that it will work to allow P2P traffic to move more smoothly over its FiOS network.
For whatever reason, this week, Comcast said that it will treat P2P the same as other protocols, according to the news, which was first reported in The Wall Street Journal. The companies will even work together. NewTeeVee offers details on what the companies have agreed to do. Perhaps this isn't too much of a surprise after all: Comcast CTO Tony Werner is an adviser to BitTorrent.
While the issue is important for P2P traffic now, the impact will be most profound on the Net Neutrality debate and other issues related to broadband policy. Ars Technica offers reaction from two FCC commissioners and others who follow the issue. The comments are predictable: Some say the free market worked its magic and think that the issue is settled, while others say that regulation still is needed and question whether Comcast will carry through.
The story says the issue was one that Comcast had to confront: Its local distribution networks are being overwhelmed by Internet traffic, and reining in BitTorrent was one way to free up bandwidth. Comcast, the reports say, will deal with capacity issues by managing -- and potentially limiting -- all high-bandwidth users, not those employing P2P protocols. Ars Technica adds that the company is addressing the infrastructure issues with a move to Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.0 and backbone upgrades.
Blogger Aaron Huslage says the agreement in essence is a PR ploy. The real issue is Comcast's failure to upgrade its network. The company, he says, "has done a clever thing" by shifting the argument from the root issue, which is a lack of investment. In this view, P2P-related capacity issues are a symptom, not a cause, of the problem.