BitTorrent Speaks


BitTorrent has shaken up the CRTC network management hearing with a late submission that seeks to set the record straight on BitTorrent and its impact on ISP networks.  The company begins by noting:

Our company, more specifically our BitTorrent application, has been referred to repeatedly in various submissions in this proceeding.  From these submissions, there appears to be some misconceptions as to the effect of BitTorrent, as well as in general peer-to-peer ("P2P") applications, on the Internet and in fact there has been an overstatement of the effect of such applications on network congestion.

After describing BitTorrent (the company and the application), the submission addresses several misconceptions:

BitTorrent then focuses on the effect of Canadian traffic management practices on the application's performance.  The two main paragraphs are worth quoting in full since they have major implications beyond just the CRTC as BitTorrent states that movie executives report that Canadian P2P usage has declined dramatically over the past year.  The comment:

There were many assertions by parties to this proceeding that ITMP does not block BitTorrent, but only delays the eventual downloads.  Setting aside the interactive use of BitTorrent detailed above, it is clear that in a very competitive marketplace, these delays are critical and do in fact degrade the application and are having an effect on overall usage of the protocol.  In conversations with Motion Picture executives who track P2P usage, they indicated that there has been a dramatic decline in P2P usage in Canada in the last year with a corresponding increase in other applications that are server based (and presumably not currently targeted by ITMP).  We can assume this migration has occurred because these applications artificially outperform P2P.  This is an example of the networks using ITMP to pick winners and losers in the marketplace and BitTorrent submits that such a practice should not be permitted in a neutral management regime.

BitTorrent offers commercial services using P2P technology to deliver professional content for publishers.  These clients use the underlying BitTorrent protocol but are also designed to report a considerable amount of performance information about the underlying networks, as this information is critical to publishers who need to track how effectively their content is being delivered.  These services are in use worldwide and the critical measurement for the system is a metric called "offload", which is essentially, the percentage of traffic that was able to be delivered using the P2P elements of the system. Overall offload for the entire ecosystem (all customers, all regions of the world) averages around 80% and when measured by individual ISP typically ranges between 70% and 90%.  However, for Canadian ISPs this metric drops to 30%, the lowest for any major network worldwide.  One can only assume that ITMP or underlying network performance conditions are attributable to this low level of system performance in Canada.

BitTorrent's proposed approach:

The neutral nature of the Internet is something that should be preserved or it may result in unwanted or unintended consequences (ie. lack of innovation which may slow growth of network development and capacity).  However, this needs to be balanced against the recognized need for operators to manage their networks. BitTorrent submits that to be reasonable, network management solutions should be non-discriminatory in nature.  No solution that singles out a single application or protocol should be considered neutral.  When presented with this challenge in the United States, we were able to work with one of the largest ISPs, Comcast, towards a network management solution that manages heavy users, not applications and only does so during necessary moments of intense congestion.  In this way, every user is accorded his or her fair share, regardless of the applications in use or destinations involved.  ITMP that singles out specific applications will hamper and harm innovation at the edge and contribute to the centralized control of media, restricting the Internet to those who can afford the costs of traditional distribution on the Internet.  The potential impairment of freedom of expression in this case should not be underestimated.

The BitTorrent filing comes very late in the process, but should cause the CRTC to rethink some of the ISP claims regarding the BitTorrent and the approach of some providers to traffic management.

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