Comcast n' BitTorrent BFF: What's Good, What Sucks

Okay, so Comcast and BitTorrent are finally making nice after being all Crips and Bloods, even rousing the FCC out of its slumber at one point, which Comcast fought with every trick in the book. It sounds awesome on paper: Your torrents are safe! More bandwidth! Torrents will work even better! Comcast is all for net neutrality! Not quite. You might actually even be worse off.

"Protocol agnostic" sounds a lot like net neutrality, treating all data equally, be it P2P or FTP. Except in this case, it means slowing all packets equally when traffic reaches an unacceptable volume. Under the current system, which was described as "surgical" in its precision when we talked to Comcast about it just a few days ago, only the torrent uploads of super traffic hogs (something like the 5 percent worst abusers, similar to Time Warner's estimation) are delayed, and only when and where there's heavy congestion. So, you could be hammering the shit out of your connection on FTP, and you wouldn't see the kind of management being applied to someone on the block using torrent if the network was congested.

Now, it doesn't matter how you're raping the connection—they slow your whole pipe down if you're "disproportionately" swallowing bandwidth when the network's congested (I'm repeating that phrase to emphasize that's the only time they hit the nuke button), whether it's BitTorrent or you have 100 YouTube vids running at once. It's a nice marketing move: Comcast actually gets to engage in stiffer throttling while gaining credit for easing off BitTorrent. What's good is that it's promising to be extremely upfront and transparent about how and why it manages traffic, which takes the evil bite out of the practice.

But it also makes it more acceptable to the average Joe, clearing the way for every ISP to do so: "Hey, we told you we might do it."

Another reason they made the switch? To try to keep the FCC from laying down net neutrality rules, which no ISP seems to want. Head honcho Kevin Martin has a huge hard-on for reaming the cable industry, in particular Comcast, and the recent dustup with BitTorrent had the FCC seriously considering laying down net neutrality rules for the first time. In my dealings, Comcast and BitTorrent execs actually seem pretty friendly toward one another; presumably they wanted to work it out without the government stepping in.

The people who want net-neutrality regulation may get their wish in the end, since Martin still isn't impressed with the show of friendship:

"While it may take time to implement its preferred new traffic management technique, it is not at all obvious why Comcast couldn't stop its current practice of arbitrarily blocking its broadband customers from using certain applications. Comcast should provide its broadband customers as well as the Commission with a commitment of a date certain by when it will stop this practice.

At the same time, Comcast is upgrading its network and boosting its upstream capabilties, and you'll have much fatter pipes rolling out at the end of this year—combined with the work they're doing with BitTorrent to improve the protocol efficiency and their network's ability to deal with P2P, it's probable they'll actually be doing less throttling, at least if you're paying top dollar for bandwidth. But then again, the approaching HD video flood is going to be a traffic demon.