Comcast Slammed For Torrent Throttling

Dennis Faas's picture

Firms involved in filesharing technology have protested Comcast's decision to restrict its customers' use of peer-to-peer (P2P) software, such as BitTorrent.

P2P is a system of distributing data which involves splitting one file into many pieces. Rather than downloading the file directly from a website, users get pieces from a variety of fellow users, with the file reassembled on their computer. This spreads the demand for data and means P2P can be used for files which would be too large for many people to download from a single site.

Several firms complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year after Internet provider Comcast appeared to be blocking the uses of P2P programs. Comcast say they didn't cut access, but did slow down use of such software during busy times.

The FCC is now holding a public consultation on the issue and is examining complaints that Comcast is discriminating against P2P technology.

Comcast argue that P2P use takes up half of their total Internet traffic and slows down access to other users. However, a lawyer for Free Press, a group promoting net neutrality (the idea that Internet firms shouldn't discriminate against different technologies) said, "The choice of what to use your bandwidth for should be made by the user and the consumer, not the cable industry." (Source:

There are some allegations that Comcast is imposing these restrictions to benefit its own video-on-demand services. Vuze, one of the Internet video companies which complained to the FCC, said this week that Comcast's behavior was like a racecourse owner also owning one of the horses in a race and being allowed to slow down the competing horses.

Another software firm says there are free speech issues because Comcast's actions don't affect large media groups which can afford the bandwidth for direct downloads. (Source:

It's an interesting debate because, unlike most P2P issues, it doesn't center on copyright infringement. The firms that are complaining prove that P2P technology can be used for perfectly legal purposes. The problem is that with a prevailing culture of flat-rate broadband subscription costs, Internet providers may feel that restricting P2P use is the only way to keep demand for bandwidth under control.

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