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.

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