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Comcast and BitTorrent announced an agreement to work together to manage network traffic in a transparent and protocol-agnostic way.
A joint statement from both companies said Comcast will manage Internet traffic equally, regardless of the type of content. Observers were divided about what the agreement means in terms of future government oversight of network management.
Several groups have criticized Comcast, alleging the company's network management practices blocked peer-to-peer file sharing and discriminated against BitTorrent. The Federal Communications Commission recently held related hearings and launched an investigation into Comcast's network management practices.
Comcast admitted to delaying file transfers during peak traffic times in order to protect some users from delays caused by people transferring massive files over the Internet. Groups promoting network neutrality cried foul, saying that Comcast and other Internet service providers should not be able to slow traffic based on content.
The agreement states that Comcast and BitTorrent will invite the broader Internet and ISP community to work on new distribution architecture for rich media content and traffic management. Comcast CTO Tony Werner said that by the end of the year it will test and deploy a management technique that is not based on protocol.
Werner said that peer-to-peer 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."
BitTorrent CTO Eric Klinker said ISPs have to manage their networks, especially during times of peak congestion.
"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," he said.
Ashwin Navin, co-founder and president of BitTorrent, said that his company will enhance client applications and optimize them for a new broadband network architecture.
"Furthermore, we will publish these optimizations in open forums and standard bodies for all application developers to benefit from," he said.
John Schanz, Comcast's executive VP and president of national engineering and technical operations, reiterated plans to more than double the capacity of residential Internet service by year's end. He said multicarrier technology will add upstream capacity before the company rolls out Internet services using the DOCSIS 3.0 standard.
FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell issued a statement praising the companies for coming to a resolution.
"Consumers will be the ultimate beneficiaries of this agreement," he said. "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 marketplace. The private sector is the best forum to resolve such disputes. Today's announcement obviates the need for any further government intrusion into this matter."
Marvin Ammori, general counsel of Free Press and author of the complaint, said the agreement came only after public pressure and the threat of government action. He said that he doesn't trust Comcast to manage Internet traffic properly and the government should still act.
"The issue of net neutrality is bigger than Comcast and BitTorrent," Ammori said in a prepared statement. "This agreement does nothing to protect the many other peer-to-peer companies from blocking, nor does it protect future innovative applications and services. Finally, it does nothing to prevent other phone and cable companies from blocking. Innovators should not have to negotiate side deals with phone and cable companies to operate without discrimination. The Internet has always been a level playing field, and we need to keep it that way."
Before Thursday's announcement, the FCC had already scheduled another hearing for April 17 at Stanford University.