Broadband has no regulator, BitTorrent CEO says

The peer-to-peer vendor now has its own protocol to keep file-sharing from hogging networks

The Internet industry has to regulate itself by responding to consumer demands in the wake of the recent U.S. federal court ruling that the Federal Communications Commission didn't have authority to enforce its net neutrality rules, BitTorrent CEO Eric Klinker said Monday.

"There is no ambiguity. There is not going to be, at least in the near term, a strong regulator for broadband," Klinker told the eComm conference in Burlingame, California.

Instead, it is the public that will pass judgment on how service and application providers behave, Klinker said. "The public is our regulator."

BitTorrent was at the center of the case that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided on April 6. The FCC had ordered cable operator Comcast to stop throttling BitTorrent and other file-sharing applications on its network. The high court ruled that the agency could not do so.

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer tool for transferring files, including very large ones, and has been called one of the major platforms for sharing of copyright-protected works. Comcast has defended its right to take steps to manage its network so a few users don't take up too much its capacity. The court ruling appears to have seriously hobbled the FCC's ability to enforce its network neutrality principles, which call for nondiscriminatory treatment of different applications traveling over public networks, among other things.

But Klinker told eComm he isn't afraid of carriers creating "walled gardens" of selected content turn the Internet into the equivalent of cable TV. They also would have a hard time selling network management programs based on "discrimination," he said. What consumers really want are steps to ease delays during times of heavy usage, according to Klinker. BitTorrent even has its own mechanism for doing this, called Micro Transport Protocol, and has rolled it out to the users of its software.

Carriers probably won't try to be gatekeepers against certain websites or Internet-based services because the steps they would have to take, he said.

"For example, if (carriers) wanted to extract a rent from Google, one of the carriers in this room is going to have to blink first and block Google," Klinker said. The greater threat to the Internet may be Apple's "feudal" approach to the Internet, he said. Apple has come under fire for controlling access to popular, lucrative platforms of its own creation, such as iTunes and the iPhone App Store.

Most people basically want net neutrality, so it would be hard for carriers to justify network management measures that are seen as discriminatory, Klinker said. What consumers will embrace are moves to ease congestion during busy times.

"Management practices devoted to this problem, I think, are totally defensible," Klinker said. He used the analogy of ambulances traveling quickly through crowded streets because other drivers pull over for them. "Neutral and priority can -- in fact, they do -- coexist," he said.

This is the principle behind Micro Transport Protocol, Klinker said. The system instructs BitTorrent to take up unused capacity on a network so, for example, it will hold back during a busy work day to let more critical applications maintain their performance, he said. When it senses delays, it slows down, helping other applications maintain low latency.

BitTorrent has been developing Micro Transport Protocol for several years. In January, it declared the software stable and provided it as an automatic update to users of the company's own BitTorrent client. (Users who don't choose to update their clients won't get it.) About 60 other companies distribute versions of BitTorrent software, which is open source, but the company has about 70 million users out of a worldwide total of about 100 million, according to Klinker.

The new protocol can benefit carriers by allowing them to run their networks more fully loaded, because BitTorrent will stop itself from overloading the network, he said.

Tags bittorrentbroadband

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

3 Comments

Larry Seltzer

1

An actual test of BitTorrent MTP (http://www.digitalsociety.org/2010/01/bittorrent-would-rather-be-selfish-than-friendly/) indicates that BitTorrent doesn't do what Klinker says.

Bill Stanton

2

The problem I see with µTP is it doesn't take into account one important thing: Human nature. I think BitTorrent believe that if the software backs off then ISPs may be less inclined to concentrate on suppressing it using traffic shaping. But what I think will really happen is ISPs will continue to attempt to cut down the size of the peaks in their bandwidth traffic graphs to help maximise returns on their current infrastructure whether BitTorrent is a hindrance to that goal or not. Ideally an ISP would like a perfectly flat usage graph 24/7 to allow for them to minimise on expenditure into additional network capacity. Peak time peaks cut into potential profitability so they have an interest in flattening those peaks out.

Throttling down file-sharing applications like BitTorrent was an obvious and easy way to do this. I suspect that this will continue to be the case whether µTP causes clients to back off automatically or not. µTP, I may argue, by default relegates itself to the slow lane wherever it detects 'congestion' in the form of lag, but ISPs may aim to maintain a managable amount of congestion anyway as they attempt to flatten out those peaks, so µTP could find itself effectively useless to people during any of these times where bandwidth resources are, by design, scarce, which is when most people want to use it. BitTorrent will back off to allow all other protocols to override it. That may sound all nice and fluffy, but reality may show that those that choose to be weak are those most likely to be crushed in the face of competition.

Aside from bandwidth concerns, you have obvious issues with BitTorrent's association with the infringement of copyrighted content, which is another big reason you may find some providers continue to ignore any reasons for not acting with purpose against the protocol. That it generally uses a lot of bandwidth resources may have been a convenient excuse is all. Many may have incentive to squeeze it out about as much as they can get away with anyway, irrespective of µTP, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them continue business as usual. It might have even made things much easier for them.

speakthetruth

3

Its sad that in America all corporation sees are $$$ $$$
What about providing better service? What about that, well my guess is that answer can be seen from the response above me, because when you get paid shills and ignorant people who cannot see or understand what good services are needed, Americans will forever be Royally f*&^k#$ by corporations who will in turn tell the public its for your own good.

My point is this, when you get people commenting on stuff that they have no idea how it works we will forever have situations like these where the corporations feels they can do what ever they want with the backing of the supreme court and twisted politicians which can be bought everyday.

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