The fight for net neutrality is intensifying with the recent confirmation that Comcast and other internet providers are restricting BitTorrent traffic. ‘Net neutrality’ is the basic principal that all traffic on the internet should be transmitted equally. Unfortunately, corporations like Comcast believe that they should be able to slow down or block certain types of traffic while accelerating other types (including their own).
Comcast’s Anti-Competitive Traffic Blocking
We recently participated in a joint press event with Vuze and BitTorrent, Inc– our products are all directly threatened by the filtering that Comcast is engaging in. In addition to restricting free speech, when Comcast blocks BitTorrent it blocks competition. Comcast isn’t just a provider of internet service, they are, of course, most known as a cable television provider. When they block BitTorrent services like Miro, they are blocking our ability to compete with their video services. It’s anti-competitive, pure and simple.
Comcast claims that this blocking is essential to prevent their network from being overwhelmed by a small number of users who hog bandwidth. But rather than addressing bandwidth usage, they choose to block specific services. Imagine a Comcast customer who sucks up a disproportionate share of bandwidth by buying lots of Comcast brand on-demand video. What’s the likelihood that Comcast will start to block their own service?
Advocacy for Net Neutrality Rules
There is hope in this fight. Free Press is a fantastic non-profit organization that fights for media access. They run the Save the Internet Campaign, the leading voice for Net Neutrality. We have joined them along with our friends at Public Knowledge, Consumers Union (Consumer Reports), and other groups to file comments (pdf here) with the FCC that ask for public-interest minded rules to govern network management. More on Comcast and neutrality from Free Press.
PCF does not and cannot endorse political candidates, but it’s also a very positive sign that Barack Obama, the Democratic frontrunner, has a very strong position in favor of net neutrality.
The Blocking and Evasion Arms Race
Meanwhile, there’s a technology battle raging. BitTorrent, Inc. has also recently proposed a new standard that would strengthen bittorrent encryption. Miro already supports a basic level of encryption, which helps reduce the extent to which service providers can block BitTorrent traffic. This new standard would make evasion of BitTorrent blocking even more effective. But this is a needless arms race. There is every reason– to protect both free speech and commercial innovation– to have a strong net neutrality law.