LOS ANGELES-The agreement between Comcast and BitTorrent to resolve issues involving the throttling of P2P traffic may end a government investigation into the matter, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said March 27.
Comcast is facing a complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission that claims the company’s network management practices violate the FCC’s Internet Policy Statement issued Aug. 9, 2005. Comcast contends its practices are reasonable under FCC rules and even if the FCC found Comcast in violation, the agency has no authority to enforce the rules.
Nevertheless, Comcast and BitTorrent announced March 27 that they were working to address issues associated with rich media content and network capacity management.
“I’m not convinced the Comcast and BitTorrent [complaint] warrants any more government action,” McDowell, a Republican appointed to the FCC by President Bush, said at the second annual Tech Policy Summit here. “The Internet and Internet governance has been all about private agreements.”
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin also praised the agreement.
“I am pleased that Comcast has reversed course and agreed that it is not a reasonable network management practice to arbitrarily block certain applications on its network,” Martin said in a statement. “I also commend the company for admitting publicly that it was engaging in the practice and now engaging in a dialog with BitTorrent.”
Michael Copps, a Democratic member of the FCC, was less convinced.
“Today’s announcement confirms my belief that the FCC needs to play a proactive role in preserving the Internet as a vibrant place for democratic values, innovation and economic growth,” Copps said in a statement. “If it had not been for the FCC’s attention to this issue earlier this year, we would not be having the conversation that we are having now among network operators, edge content providers, consumers and government about the best way to implement reasonable network management.”
Since the complaint against Comcast was filed, the FCC has held an open meeting in Boston seeking public comment on Comcast’s handling of network traffic and plans another hearing at Stanford University April 17.
Collaboration Already Producing Results
“I am confident that, through this process, the FCC can come up with clear rules of the road that will benefit American consumers and provide much-needed certainty to both network operators and Internet entrepreneurs,” Copps said.
BitTorrent, the P2P application vendor whose software allows users to rapidly download video files, issued a conciliatory statement about its agreement with Comcast.
“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,” said Eric Klinker, BitTorrent’s chief technology officer.
“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 said in a statement the collaboration with BitTorrent is already producing results. The cable giant said by the end of the year it would migrate to a capacity management technique that is protocol agnostic. Earlier this year, Comcast announced its plans for the deployment of wideband Internet services using the DOCSIS 3.0 standard, which will be available for up to 20 percent of Comcast’s customers 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,” Comcast CTO Tony Werner 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.”