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The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Comcast and BitTorrent, Inc. are now working together to “collaborate on ways to run BitTorrent’s technology more smoothly on Comcast’s broadband network, and allow Comcast to transport video files more effectively over its own network.” While we applaud application developers and network operators getting together to figure out how to improve the efficiency of the Internet, this changes nothing about the issues raised in the petitions on network management; the FCC must still act quickly to ensure that its four principles for broadband service have real meaning and that consumers are protected.
Much like Verizon’s announcement that they would open their wireless network to anyone’s devices, this news has the potential to do a lot of good, but the devil will be in the details. To the extent that this partnership assists Comcast in migrating to network management techniques which do not target specific protocols or applications, we are once more “cautiously optimistic.” And we can look to Verizon’s recent embracing of P4P for an example of what looks like a positive attempt to benefit everyone through improved technologies combined with industry-wide standards.
But we must recognize that these are two commercial entities whose goals are, in the end, to make sure that their networks and technologies are as profitable as possible. One can conceive of a world where an ISP and an application developer band together to make a proprietary system in which sanctioned application data gets preferred treatment, the ISP gets greater control of the application running on your computer, and both companies are happy in the exact situation we want to prevent. Time will tell what this partnership actually means.
Regardless of what comes of this news, the issues raised in the petitions remain unchanged. We know that service providers are discriminating against certain technologies. ISPs have denied everything, they have failed to release the details of their activities, they argue that there’s no problem with their behavior, and they claim that the FCC has no authority to stop them. None of these is acceptable. Even in the best-case scenario for a Comcast/BitTorrent partnership, Comast is not the only one engaging in this sort of behavior. The FCC must make it clear that these types of practices are unlawful and against public policy, and that they will not be tolerated, now or in the future.
For a word from our President, have a look at our press release on today’s announcement.
Update: If you want to see just how this confused this issue still is, compare the five statements made by Chairman Martin and Commissioners Copps, Adelstein, Tate, and McDowell. Did Comcast actually agree that what they were doing was not reasonable network management? Are Comcast and BitTorrent engaged in negotiations, or do they have an agreement? Have they announced what their solutions are, or just that they have them? If the FCC Commissioners can't even agree what happened, can this fight possibly be over?