Comcast and BitTorrent Reach Accord on Network Management Practices

March 27, 2008. Comcast and BitTorrent announced that "they will undertake a collaborative effort with one another and with the broader Internet and ISP community to more effectively address issues associated with  rich media content and network capacity management." See, Comcast release and substantially identical BitTorrent release.

Also, the two companies stated that there is no need for government intervention. The FCC is currently considering a request for intervention. On November 1, 2007, the Free Press (FP) and Public Knowledge (PK) filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a document [48 pages in PDF] captioned "Formal Complaint of Free Press and Public Knowledge Against Comcast Corporation For Secretly Degrading Peer-to-Peer Applications".

The complaint alleges that Comcast is "degrading peer-to-peer protocols" by inserting forged reset packets into communications between peers in peer to peer (P2P) communications that terminate those communications. This, the complaint alleges, interferes with Comcast's subscribers use of applications like BitTorrent. See, story titled "Free Press Files Complaint with FCC Alleging that Comcast Is Violating 2005 Policy Statement" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,669, November 5, 2007.

The FCC adopted its "Policy Statement" on August 5, 2005. It is FCC 05-151. See also, story titled "FCC Adopts a Policy Statement Regarding Network Neutrality" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,190, August 8, 2005. The FCC released the text [3 pages in PDF] on September 23, 2007. See, story titled "FCC Releases Policy Statement Regarding Internet Regulation" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,221, September 26, 2005.

The releases of Comcast and BitTorrent state that Comcast "will migrate by year-end 2008 to a capacity management technique that is protocol agnostic".

The releases continue that "In turn, BitTorrent acknowledged the need of ISPs to manage their networks, especially during times of peak congestion."

Also, "BitTorrent and Comcast have also agreed to work with other ISPs, other technology companies, and the Internet Engineering Task Force, to explore and develop a new distribution architecture for the efficient delivery of rich media content."

Finally, the releases state that "Both BitTorrent and Comcast expressed the view that these technical issues can be worked out through private business discussions without the need for government intervention."

The releases do not disclosure whether or not Comcast and BitTorrent have entered into any contract regarding this topic.

All five Commissioners released statements in which they expressed pleasure in the just announced accord. However, they differed as to how the FCC should now proceed. McDowell made the strongest statement against government intervention. Tate suggested opposition to government intervention. Martin and Adelstein did not express an opinion. Copps argued for a continuing FCC role.

Chairman Kevin Martin wrote in a statement [PDF] that "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. I also commend the company for admitting publicly that it was engaging in the practice and now engaging in a dialog with BitTorrent."

He added that "I am concerned, though, that Comcast has not made clear when they will stop this discriminatory practice." However, he expressed no opinion as to whether the FCC should adopt network management practice rules.

Commissioner Deborah Tate wrote in a statement [PDF] that "I have consistently favored competition and market forces rather than government regulation across all platforms and especially in this dynamic, highly-technical marketplace." She added that "I look forward to even more collaborative, industry-based solutions, which are often the most effective and efficient means of resolving complex, technical network disputes."

Commissioner Robert McDowell wrote in a statement that "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 market place. 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."

Commissioner Michael Copps wrote in a statement that "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. 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."

And, he wrote that "the FCC can come up with clear rules".

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein wrote in a statement that "We will need to learn more details about the recent agreement between BitTorrent and Comcast, but it is encouraging that broadband providers are listening to the chorus of consumer calls for open and neutral broadband Internet access."