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Comcast Caves In to P2P Pressure

Jeff Baumgartner
3/27/2008

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has relented to growing pressure over its peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic management policies by teaming up with file-sharing technology specialist BitTorrent Inc. and the broader Internet community to address its network capacity and "rich media content" distribution strategies. (See Comcast Tackles Capacity Mgt.)

The news follows months of public pressure over Comcast's treatment of P2P traffic on its network.

Although the details have yet to be hammered out, Comcast has already agreed to migrate to a "protocol agnostic" capacity management system by the end of 2008. Among components of that system, Comcast reportedly will ensure that P2P connections are not reset.

Comcast, the U.S.'s largest cable operator, has been under fire about how it throttles P2P applications. In January, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened an investigation into complaints brought on by P2P player Vuze Inc. and pressure groups such as Free Press about Comcast's network management policies. (See FCC Eyes Comcast's P2P Policies.)

Comcast had denied blocking applications, but has acknowledged delaying some traffic using what it believes to be "reasonable" network management techniques so that all cable modem customers, and not just the heavy users, get a quality experience. (See Comcast Defends P2P Management .)

Detractors have asked for more transparency into Comcast's practices.

As a result of recent discussions with BitTorrent and other parties, Comcast "will have to rapidly reconfigure [its] network management systems, but the outcome will be a traffic management technique that is more appropriate for today's emerging Internet trends," said the MSO's CTO Tony Werner in prepared statement.

Werner added that the MSO has been discussing the migration plan with other "leaders in the Internet community" for several months. Following some additional adjustments and refinements based on that feedback, Comcast expects to publish its new capacity management and early trial results, though no date has been set for that information to become public.

"We believe that P2P technology has matured as an enabler for legal content distribution, so we need to have an architecture that can support it with techniques that work over all networks," Werner added.

Comcast also expects to more than double its upstream bandwidth "in several key markets" by the end of the year, according to John Schanz, the MSO's EVP of national engineering and technical operations.

While that should enable P2P applications to run more smoothly, he didn't specify how much upstream capacity those customers might be able to expect. The MSO's present high-end tier, "Blast!," caps the upstream at 2 Mbit/s. (See Comcast Has a 'Blast!' in the Bay .)

That number should rise once Comcast and other MSOs gain access to the full features of Docsis 3.0, a new CableLabs specification that uses channel bonding techniques to increase shared burst speeds beyond 100 Mbit/s. (See Teeing Up Docsis 3.0 .)

Schanz reiterated that Comcast expects to wire up to 20 percent of its footprint for Docsis 3.0 by the end of 2008. (See Comcast Closes In on 100 Mbit/s.)

For its part, BitTorrent extended an olive branch of its own, acknowledging that ISPs need to manage networks, particularly during times of peak congestion and as more users tap the Web for video services, but maintained that it wasn't a huge fan of the way some service providers were delaying or throttling 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," stated BitTorrent CTO Eric Klinker in a press release.

"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," added Klinker.

BitTorrent noted it will also optimize its client applications to work with a new "non-discriminatory" broadband network architecture for rich media content being explored by the P2P company, Comcast, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) , and other ISPs.

More details about this agreement will be published throughout the day.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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