Comcast Shift a Nod to Political, Competitive Realities

Carl Weinschenk

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.

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Mar 28, 2008 2:02 AM Robb Topolski Robb Topolski  says:
Just by way of re-introduction if necessary, Im probably a key figureas to why were all talking about Network Neutrality again. I was having aproblem uploading on Gnutella in early 2007. I tracked it down toComcast using Sandvine-injected RST packets and documented it. Blogstories led to press stories which led to independent confirmation.And here we are today.Today Comcast and BitTorrent seems to have solved world hunger andId love nothing more than to be optimistic about it. But I cannotbe. As they say on Slashdot show video, or it didnt happen. Thisdeal is treachery, relies on how much we can trust the word ofComcast, and leaves the public interests out in the cold.I think its strange that anyone believes a word that Comcast says.This is the Comcast that:1.Told the government that they would not degrade traffic in orderto convince officials that network neutrality regulations were notneeded.2.Started degrading P2P traffic the very next year, and failed totell anyone what they were doing.3.Used a system that utilized forgery, and successfully placed blameon the other peer instead of Comcast.4.Denied it when caught.5.Then changed their story when the denials were not believed, butstill never came out and said what they were doing.6.Then they justified their actions by throwing their otherCable-Internet brothers and sisters under the bus with their they doit too! defense7.Then stealthily changed the AUP days before an FCC filing wherethey referred to the new provisions.8.When the changed AUP started getting press attention, they statedthat a prominent story on alerted millions of visitors ofthe change and accused Marvin Ammori of crying wolf. (Google cacheproved that nothing alerted users to the changed AUP until the dayafter the press started asking questions.)9.Then they packed the Harvard FCC hearing.This company has not demonstrated that you can trust its promises, norcan you believe its assertions. Comcast just used BitTorrent Inc. as atool to try and defang the FCC.BitTorrent Inc. is a content provider. Vuze, who actually DID make acomplaint and petition to the FCC, is a competitor. NeitherBitTorrent, Vuze, nor Comcast represents the interests of 12 millionComcast users nor the The Internet Society nor the public. And thismiddle-of-the-night deal was made without their input.Nothing has changed. The RST interference continues. It was a wrongfulact. BitTorrent Inc. has no right making a deal with Comcast allowingit to continue to commit wrongful acts until it finally decides it isready to stop. The correct relief is to stop the interferenceimmediately and to FULLY DISCLOSE what it did and to acceptresponsibility for those actions. (Even today, Comcasts Policy VPrefused to answer questions about the interference.)Their word is worthless. Until the interference stops, I have noreason to believe it will. Until either meaningful competition returnsto broadband, or until sufficient government regulation enforcesNetwork Neutrality, we have no reason to think that this agreementwill last through the night.Robb Topolski Reply
Apr 2, 2008 4:05 AM LeeRich LeeRich  says:
Robb,How much do you really know about the deal? Honestly. Because there seems to be quite a number of people who, after examining the partnership, seem to think it is a good idea (i.e. Om Malik and Richard Bennett), or at the least think they need to wait and see how it is implemented. Instead of offering a knee-jerk negative response. Don't we want this debate to continue and move forward? Deriding any player BitTorrent, Comcast or whoever for trying something new seems counterproductive. As for BitTorrent's right. They have the right to negotiate whatever partnership they think is in their best interest, especially when a great deal of coverage says the deal will be good for users. Government intervention, free market working it's "magic, " whatever, what we need are solutions. And this seems to be one. If everyone spent more time looking for solutions to problems instead lambasting those who make any movement whatsoever, maybe things would get done. Reply

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