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FCC Tackles Comcasts BitTorrent Throttling

The Federal Communications Commission has begun hearings as part of an investigation into Comcast Corp.s alleged practice of throttling BitTorrent Inc. traffic, believing it violates net neutrality, though its unclear if the FCC has the authority to act on findings.

The cable colossus has incurred the wrath of consumers, FCC commisioners and politicians, who are convinced Comcast filters and/or cuts off traffic to users of BitTorrent applications. They want it to stop immediately, and punitive measures applied.

We have the dual responsibilities of creating an environment that promotes infrastructure investment and broadband deployment and to ensure that consumers’ access to content on the Internet is protected, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said at Mondays hearing at Harvard Law School. The commission is ready, willing and able to step in if necessary to correct any practices that are ongoing today.

Testifying before the FCC on Monday, Comcast Vice President David Cohen denied his company blocks traffic to any Web site or application, adding that Comcast and others do move traffic as part of what he calls network management.

Martin said providers should be able to make adjustments in a time of dwindling bandwidth, but also must disclose what actions they are taking.

Obviously network operators can take reasonable steps to manage traffic, but they cannot arbitrarily block access, Martin said.

Officials from Verizon Communications Inc. and law and Internet experts also testified at the hearing.

BitTorrent is a popular means of delivering high-quality files over the Internet using streaming technology. BitTorrents peer-assisted content delivery platform lets Web users publish, discover and download digital entertainment content.

Using BitTorrents free client software lets customers download for rent or purchase thousands of movies, TV shows, music tracks, and popular PC games from the likes of Warner Brothers, MTV Networks, Starz Media, G4 and Twentieth Century Fox.

And with content owners looking to build their online brands, and bank accounts, via streaming, the FCC-Comcast hearings become a high stakes undertaking that impacts more than Web users and service providers.

This is just the latest on the on-again, off-again net neutrality issue.

Streaming media in general suffers significant performance downgrades when slowed. And filtering can block downloads altogether. Since the content being streamed is bandwidth-demanding video, delays and poor performance are obvious to end users.

But instead of diminishing interest in BitTorrent delivered content, it appears that the huge customer base has become enraged, taking to the Web, politicians and to the FCC in search of the alleged practice by Comcast and elsewhere.

BitTorrent Inc. www.bittorrent.com
Comcast Corp. www.comcast.com
Federal Communications Commission www.fcc.gov


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