BitTorrent, Comcast Reveal Peace Process

No deal has been inked to end the battle between Comcast and peer-to-peer users, but BitTorrent and Comcast received kudos all around when they revealed they are working on some kind of arrangement.

Recent press about network management and the FCC’s hearing on the subject Feb. 25 spurred BitTorrent to announce its ongoing discussions with Comcast, said BitTorrent President and co-founder Ashwin Navin.

The two companies have been talking for two years about how to re-architect Comcast’s network for optimized media delivery, Navin said,

“We are particularly enthusiastic about Comcast’s commitment to make their network management protocol agnostic (neutral to all applications) as well as their efforts to upgrade broadband speeds for both downstream AND upstream traffic,” he said. “We will optimize our application to take advantage of their network upgrades and share those techniques with the broader Internet community (via standards bodies like the IETF, for example).”

Comcast and BitTorrent earned praise around Washington.

“We applaud both companies for their willingness to work together on immediate solutions to challenges like traffic management, and for their leadership in working with other industries to look for opportunities that will continue to ensure a vibrant Internet,” said Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, “Government interference in the development of this market could easily foreclose or otherwise prevent the emergence of efforts such as this one, and it could never anticipate the kinds of consumer-responsive approaches that further improve and enhance the user experience, including efforts to respect the rights of copyright owners and to fight piracy.”

Republican FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell also hailed the news as a done deal and a victory for the marketplace.

“I am delighted to learn that BitTorrent and Comcast have reached a resolution to their dispute,” he said in a statement. “Consumers will be the ultimate beneficiaries of this agreement. As I have said for a long time, it is precisely this kind of private sector solution that has been the bedrock of Internet governance since its inception. Government mandates cannot possibly contemplate the myriad complexities and nuances of the Internet marketplace. The private sector is the best forum to resolve such disputes. Today’s announcement obviates the need for any further government intrusion into this matter.”

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, said the episode underscores the need for net neutrality legislation sponsored by him and Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss.

“Although today’s announcement by Comcast and BitTorrent will not result in the immediate cessation of the network management techniques that have drawn scrutiny from policymakers and the Internet community, I commend the parties for announcing their intention to take certain steps and to attempt to reach broader agreements down the line. Comcast deserves credit for taking this action,” Markey said in a statement.

“It is important to keep in mind, however, that today’s announcement does not include any statement by Comcast that it concedes that the FCC has authority to act in this area to protect Internet freedom,” he said. “Moreover, even if today’s announced discussions prove successful, they may ultimately involve only the policies of one broadband provider with respect to Internet traffic over its network.”

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin too was not ready to let the issue rest. “I hope that the negotiations to which Comcast commits today will result in a solution that preserves consumers’ ability to access any lawful Internet content and applications of their choice,” he said in a statement. “I am concerned, though, that Comcast has not made clear when they will stop this discriminatory practice. It appears this practice will continue throughout the country until the end of the year and in some markets, even longer.”

The commission will hold a hearing on the matter at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., April 17.