Comcast’s P2P Conversion: I’ll Believe It When I See Results

By | March 29, 2008

Comcasts P2P Conversion Ill Believe It When I See ResultsSome friends of mine did some commercials for BitTorrent.

Is Comcast serious about making nice with the “peer to peer” technology crowd? That would seem to be the case given the deal announced yesterday with BitTorrent Inc., in which the cable giant agreed to stop throttling the performance of heavy P2P users during peak times, and instead pledged to invest in the bandwidth and technologies to be able to handle that traffic. Says BitTorrent CEO Ashwin Navin: “It’s a great day for us. A lot of good can come out of this.”

I think that may well be true—somewhere down the line. For now, it’s pretty clear that this conversion is more about solving a nasty PR problem, than in truly working with P2P providers to better handle the rising tide of online video traffic. Clearly, Comcast needs to calm down critics—including at the FCC—who’ve had a field day since the Associated Press revealed last Fall that Comcast was throttling the bandwidth to heavy P2P users during peak times. And BitTorrent was the most convenient partner through which to make such a move. “Comcast has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar, and they’re trying to quickly close the book on the issue,” says Gilles BianRosa, CEO of P2P rival Vuze Inc., which filed a complaint with the FCC last year seeking new rules on how ISPs can manage traffic over their networks. “Just putting out a press release doesn’t push the envelope too much.” Om Malik was similarly suspicious. And FCC chairman Kevin Martin says he’s watching to make sure words are followed by action.

More after the break:

Why such cynicism about the deal with BitTorrent? For starters, the company is a known quantity to Comcast. BitTorrent president Ashwin Navin says the company has been having talks with Comcast technologists about they could use P2P to their advantage for the past 2.5 years, and a year ago Comcast CTO Tony Werner joined BitTorrent’s advisory board. Also, BitTorrent certainly has the right name, since it may lead some to make more of the deal than really exists. That’s because BitTorrent is the name of the most commonly used software protocol used to distribute P2P traffic. But while BitTorrent, the company, invented the underlying protocol, it’s only one of many that make software that work with this standard. Vuze, for example, has created programs (mostly a client called Azureus) that have been downloaded more than 160 million times.

Navin is quick to admit that politics played a major role in Comcast’s turnaround. While his company may have been in talks with Comcast for 2.5 years, it didn’t find out about Comcast’s throttling policy until the rest of the world did. Indeed, BitTorrent has supported Vuze’s petition with the FCC.

Rather, Comcast only got serious about partnering with BitTorrent in the aftermath of amajor PR debacle. Not only did its surreptitious throttling create a prime-rib of an issue for the Net Neutrality crowd to bite into, but Comcast’s clumsy efforts to deny or at least downplay the significance only made matters worse. That led to an FCC hearing in January, in which FCC Chairman Martin vowed to consider regulations on network management techniques.

Worse, telecom rival Verizon has since stolen the high-ground on this issue. Just days ago, the AP broke news that the phone giant has not only been partnering with P2P players, but had done research that suggests the collaboration can vastly improve download speeds for its broadband customers. With Verizon now out telling millions of young, Net savvy P2P users that it’s on their side, Comcast can ill afford to stand still. – businessweek

Leave a Reply