Comcast announced a deal 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. After months of accusations, denials and foot stomping on the part of users, cable giant Comcast and the peer-to-peer file sharing company BitTorrent have reached an agreement that supports file exchanges on the Comcast broadband network.
The issue surfaced last summer when Comcast subscribers began to notice a degradation in their BitTorrent uploads. Further investigations by individuals were later confirmed by the Associated Press: Comcast was sending out signals to disrupt the uploads of BitTorrent transfers.
The controversy expanded as Lotus Notes users realized they were also being throttled back, and other Internet service providers (ISPs) admitted that they too throttled excessive traffic use. The FCC even held hearings, and Comcast became the whipping boy among net neutrality advocates.
Behind the scenes, the two companies worked out the issues facing them, resulting in today's announcement. Instead of picking on specific applications, Comcast will focus on which users are being particular bandwidth hogs during peak usage hours.
It is expected 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.