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Reason Foundation

Comcast and P2P Blocking

Steven Titch
October 18, 2007, 2:20pm

The AP reports today that Comcast is blocking large volumes of traffic headed for peer-to-peer networking sites such as BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella. Expect the net neutrality crowd to make this story a touchstone in their call for Internet regulation. I hope they read the whole thing through first. For starters, Comcast's right to control traffic on facilities it owns are recognized by even those critical of the blocking, tacitly conceding that any regulatory countermeasure would indeed infringe on Comcast property rights. Neither is it zero sum. While the tone of the article suggests blocking is not in spirit with Internet custom, the author, Peter Svensson, recognizes that while aggressive, the traffic Comcast is "managing its network to keep file-sharing traffic from swallowing too much bandwidth and affecting the Internet speeds of other subscribers." This is a critical point, because it sets out the downside of any proposed regulation–that attempting to preserve the "right" of a tiny minority to use as much bandwidth as they want without technical check could result in congestion problems for everyone else. While some say the common good is served by network neutrality, there's still valid evidence to suggest the opposite. Let's not get carried away. "Internet service providers have long complained about the vast amounts of traffic generated by a small number of subscribers who are avid users of file-sharing programs. Peer-to-peer applications account for between 50 percent and 90 percent of overall Internet traffic, according to a survey this year by ipoque GmbH, a German vendor of traffic-management equipment," writes Svensson. Also, the context here is all technical. Much of the network neutrality opposition has gone into high dudgeon about freedom of speech. Comcast is not censoring political or social views, it's taking steps to protect its network. That's why we still need to be careful about how regulations are crafted to serve this end. Comcast's communications have been better in this regard. But there is no abuse of consumers here.


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