March 31, 2008

Comcast to give up BitTorrent blocking?

Filed under: Network,Protocols,Security — Nate Lawson @ 6:00 am

While discussion about how to implement traffic shaping was occurring, Comcast and BitTorrent.com made a joint announcement last week.  Comcast will apply bulk rate-limiting to customer connections and not target BitTorrent uploads.  And BitTorrent (the company) will cooperate with Comcast to make the protocol more amenable to ISP control in some way to be determined.

My claim was that this was all about centralized control of applications, not about congestion management.  After Comcast began to get heat from the FCC for not announcing their ad-hoc filtering, they decided it would be best to exit this experiment for now.  Comcast’s move seems to confirm my analysis.

Note what was absent in this announcement.  No complaints that aggregate rate-limiting is too hard or expensive to deploy.  No argument that only they knew what was good for their network and that seeding needed to be stopped at all costs.  They simply announced they would move to rate-limiting, which was a simpler and more appropriate response all along.

The strangest part of this whole affair was the MPAA announcement praising BitTorrent for cooperating with Comcast.  However, if you accept the theory that this is all about control, it makes more sense.  The *AA organizations have been stymied by protocols that don’t have a single responsible entity that can be petitioned or shut down.

They may assume this BitTorrent announcement is the start of a new era where ISPs can be used as a lever to bring application and protocol authors back to the negotiating table.  Under cover of “network management”, the ISPs will provide the necessary pressure to get changes made to allow more centralized control.  Only time will tell if this is just a historical footnote or the start of something new.

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