Comcast, BitTorrent to work together on network management

After drawing criticism for slowing down customers' connections to P-to-P services, Comcast will work with BitTorrent to devise a better network management strategy

Comcast, under fire for slowing some BitTorrent traffic, will work with the P-to-P (peer-to-peer) vendor to come up with better ways to address media downloads and network management, the companies announced Thursday.

Several consumer and digital rights groups have used Comcast's network-throttling actions to argue for the need for U.S. net neutrality regulations. The Associated Press reported in October that Comcast was blocking some BitTorrent traffic, and the cable modem service provider has defended its practice of sometimes slowing P-to-P traffic during peak network use.

Comcast, the largest cable modem service provider in the U.S., also said it will migrate to a network management technique that is protocol agnostic by the end of the year.

"This means that we will have to rapidly reconfigure our network management systems, but the outcome will be a traffic management technique that is more appropriate for today's emerging Internet trends," Tony Werner, Comcast CTO, said in a statement. "We have been discussing this migration and its effects with leaders in the Internet community for the last several months, and we will refine, adjust, and publish the technique based upon feedback and initial trial results."

But BitTorrent also acknowledged that ISPs may need to manage their networks, especially during peak traffic. "While we think there were other management techniques that could have been deployed, we understand why Comcast and other ISPs adopted the approach that they did initially," Eric Klinker, BitTorrent's CTO, said in a statement. "Recognizing that the Web is richer and more bandwidth intensive than it has been historically, we are pleased that Comcast understands these changing traffic patterns and wants to collaborate with us to migrate to techniques that the Internet community will find to be more transparent."

Comcast and BitTorrent have been talking with each other, but they will also work with the broader Internet community to address traffic management issues, the companies said in a news release. The companies will work with the Internet Engineering Task Force on a new distribution architecture for delivering high-bandwidth media, they said. BitTorrent will work to optimize its software for the new architecture, the company said.

Kevin Martin, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, has called for an investigation into Comcast's network management practices. But the companies said there's no need for government intervention.

The two companies "can serve consumers best by working together, along with the broader ISP and Internet community," Doug Walker, CEO of BitTorrent, said in a statement.

Free Press, a media reform group that's been critical of Comcast's network management, said the agreement doesn't change "the urgent need for the FCC to take action."

"This deal is the direct result of public pressure -- and the threat of FCC action -- against Comcast," Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press, said. "But with Comcast's history of broken promises and record of deception, we can't just take their word that the Internet is now in safe hands. The issue of net neutrality is bigger than Comcast and BitTorrent."

The agreement doesn't protect other P-to-P companies or other "innovative" applications and services, and it doesn't prevent other ISPs from blocking or slowing Internet traffic, Ammori said.

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