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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Common Sense Prevails -- The Exaflood Goes On
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This morning, Comcast and BitTorrent agreed to work together to deliver video and rich-media content to broadband Internet customers. This is a huge win for common sense and for a healthy, growing Internet.

The companies had been engaged in a dispute over network traffic management practices that was sparked when some BitTorrent users charged Comcast with slowing or degrading their upstream video sharing. Comcast replied that it was managing its network so that a few heavy users didn't degrade the service for the vast majority of its of broadband customers. The issue had reached the FCC in the form of two petitions that sought to ban or regulate traffic management, and it revived interest in legislation by Rep. Ed Markey that would have put net neutrality regulation back on the table. This major agreement, however, should sweep those complex, onerous, anti-investment proposals back off of the table.

As The Wall Street Journal reported:

[T]he current rapprochement will attempt to defuse this issue. As part of the agreement, Comcast pledges to experiment with ways to more effectively manage traffic on its network at peak times, said Ashwin Navin, the president of San Francisco-based BitTorrent.

Rather than slow traffic by certain types of applications -- such as file-sharing software or companies like BitTorrent -- Comcast will slow traffic for those users who consume the most bandwidth, said Comcast's Mr. Warner. Comcast hopes to be able to switch to a new policy based on this model as soon as the end of the year, he added. The company's push to add additional data capacity to its network also will play a role, he said. Comcast will start with lab tests to determine if the model is feasible.

The rapid growth of Internet traffic has been an issue for all service providers but particularly cable companies. Cable networks are shared among users at the neighborhood level, meaning that users consuming lots of bandwidth can degrade the performance for those surrounding them.

We at PFF have been arguing for years that the Internet is a fast-moving realm of changing technology and content. New hardware is finally delivering bandwidth abundance. New software is bringing the Web to ever more users. New content and distribution methods are changing the media, advertising, news, and entertainment landscapes. New businesses and partnerships are being formed.

We advised that Washington should not wade into this dynamic arena with static rules that are likely to be misguided, and sure to be outdated even before they go into effect. The agreement reached today is exactly the type of private partnership, arrived at in the market, that will deliver a better Internet to everyone. As FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said today:

I am delighted to learn that BitTorrent and Comcast have reached a resolution to their dispute. 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 market place. The private sector is the best forum to resolve such disputes.

And, crucially:

Today's announcement obviates the need for any further government intrusion into this matter.

We couldn't agree more.

posted by Bret Swanson @ 10:19 AM | Net Neutrality

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