Thursday, November 29, 2007

ISPs acting on Bittorrent

(via Ars Technica) EFF has released a report outlining several practices at Comcast, a popular American ISP. This is controversial, because some ISPs sell themselves as high-speed with no restrictions, which would be violated by bandwidth throttling and traffic shaping. Comcast claims that it delays bittorrent traffic, and does not block it.

What is traffic shaping? It is a method on imposing speed restrictions on certain types of traffic, such as Bittorrent, under the assumption that it slows down the quality of service to those who are not downloading at the moment. Regardless of who you believe, bittorrent hogs a lot of bandwidth in what appears to follow a Pareto distribution where few users use up a disproportionate amount of bandwidth. If that is the case, why should we get upset by ISPs imposing some form of traffic restriction on users that use up a lot of resources? One answer is that the assumption that bittorrent traffic is illegal is not always warranted. Just this week I used bittorrent to download Open Office, Knoppix and SuSE Live CD, all perfectly legitimate open source software. I also downloaded a copy of XP SP2 as my (also legitimate) CD was giving me problems when installing it in my MacBook.

Having said that, it is clear that the vast majority of traffic that uses bittorrent protocols is infringing. If we start with that assumption, it seems fair that other types of traffic be given priority in the network. As an online gamer, I hate network lag and poor quality of service, and any technical issue that can be used to solve such issues should be applauded.

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