Comcast, BitTorrent Pass The Digital Peace Pipe

After months of accusations, denials and foot stomping on the part of users, cable giant Comcast and the peer-to-peer file sharing company BitTorrent have reached an agreement that supports file exchanges on the Comcast broadband network.

The issue surfaced last summer when Comcast subscribers began to notice a degradation in their BitTorrent uploads. Further investigations by individuals were later confirmed by the Associated Press: Comcast was sending out signals to disrupt the uploads of BitTorrent transfers.

The controversy expanded as Lotus Notes users realized they were also being throttled back, and other Internet service providers (ISPs) admitted that they too throttled excessive traffic use. The FCC even held hearings, and Comcast became the whipping boy among net neutrality advocates.

Behind the scenes, the two companies worked out the issues facing them, resulting in today’s announcement. Instead of picking on specific applications, Comcast will focus on which users are being particular bandwidth hogs during peak usage hours.

“Once we figure this out, during periods of peak congestion, those individuals contributing the most to cause that congestion will see a de-prioritization or some kind of slowdown of their activities, so it doesn’t impact the activities of everyone else,” said Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas.

As soon as the congestion is gone, they can go back to using as much bandwidth as before. Comcast will eventually work out a mechanism to inform bandwidth hogs that they are being throttled and why, so it won’t be as surreptitious as before.

Needless to say, BitTorrent is thrilled at a more sharing-oriented network. “This is a big win not only for BitTorrent but for all network application developers,” said Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of BitTorrent. “Their network, which is built on a design well over 5-10 years old, will be redesigned with media delivery in mind. They reiterated to us that they are upgrading the network not only for higher capacity download but upload as well.”

Comcast is migrating to cable data standard DOCSIS 3.0, which can hit speeds of 171 megabits down and 122 megabits up on a four-channel network. “As we roll out DOCSIS 3.0, we will have the ability to introduce speeds of up to 100 megabits to customers over the next two years, with up to 160 megabits or more in the future,” said Douglas.

To that end, Comcast has also said it would close the gap between upload and download speeds. Currently, a typical Comcast customer can download at up to six megabits per second, but their upload speeds are just 384 kilobits per second.

That model worked in the ’90s, when a click on a link sent out a few bits from the user and a lot of data was sent down to the user’s computer. They just didn’t need the same bandwidth up as down. But in a social networking world, that model doesn’t work any more, maintained Navin.

“If there’s anything central to Web 2.0 and apps made in the last few years, people want to have social experiences,” he told “It’s no longer a one-way street. A new model means we need a whole lot more upload capacity than we have today.”

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