Comcast in the hot seat

A public forum has been convened by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) starting Monday at the Harvard Law School. Yet the pertinent question on this issue might just have eluded everyone in their haste to condemn Comcast.

A public forum has been convened by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday at the Harvard Law School. The question that emerged there, according to CNET's appears to be: Is what Comcast is doing clear enough?

Comcast has already confessed to slowing down certain peer-to-peer file transfer, namely that of BitTorrent. What has got everyone so uncomfortable is Comcat's use of deep-packet inspection, as well as what exactly constitutes "fair" or "sufficient" bandwidth throttling on the part of an ISP.

Obviously, the concerns highlighted above are valid ones. Comcast should also have been more forthright from the start about what it was doing in its attempt to manage the use of bandwidth by customers. Yet the pertinent question that ought to be asked might just have eluded most folks. I was chatting with George Ou from ZDNet earlier today, and he sent me the following files projecting the data usage of various protocols, which he has given permission to be used here. While these figures might be hypothetical, the logic behind the numbers are entirely plausible.


The following is the graph reflecting the above table.


A part-time BitTorrent seeder is someone who leaves BitTorrent on 12 hours a day; a full-time one is pretty self explanatory. However, no matter how you dice it, there is no doubt that a BitTorrent user does consume a fair amount of bandwidth.

Suggestions to pursue alternative methods of bandwidth throttling ignore the fact that there is no good method of controlling the amount of bandwidth that BitTorrent consumes. If punitive measures were ruled against Comcast and other ISPs who attempt to manage bandwidth, the whole issue might back-fire and result in a state where ISPs implement metered Internet services. This is obviously detrimental to end users as a whole.

Hence the question that should be asked instead should be: Do you really want to continue enjoying unmetered Internet connectivity? If yes, then short of banning BitTorrent outright, what Comcast is doing might be exactly what is needed to maintain the status quo.

Update: George's article is out. Check it out: FCC hearings: Comcast versus Vuze.


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Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

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