Stop slowing down our torrents! That’s the message BitTorrent Inc. has been sending to Canadian ISPs this week with a last-minute submission (PDF) to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Bell, Rogers and other Canadian ISPs have been throttling their subscribers’ BitTorrent traffic for years, and the CRTC recently started public hearings to figure out if government intervention is necessary.
The whole episode is reminiscent of the controversy that broke out when Comcast started to slow down its subscribers’ torrent downloads in the U.S. — especially when it comes to BitTorrent Inc.’s allegations. The company did, however, share a few interesting tidbits in its submission that clarify how much of an impact such throttling measures have and what BitTorrent is doing to address network congestion issues.
Anyone who even casually followed the Comcast controversy knows the arguments of both sides by now: ISPs claim that P2P users are bandwidth hogs and that selective throttling measures help to maintain the overall health of the network. P2P vendors, on the other hand, claim that this amounts to unfair competition. Slowing down P2P-based video platforms while others can operate freely essentially favors some vendors while discriminating against others, they say.
BitTorrent Inc. repeated these arguments in its filing with the CRTC, and included some internal numbers to prove its point. The company has been offering its DNA services to content providers to help with the distribution of video games and other large files. DNA combines BitTorrent distribution with traditional, CDN-based file hosting. A DNA customer usually sees an average of 80 percent of its traffic facilitated via BitTorrent, according to the filing. However, in Canada, the percentage drops down to 30 percent, making P2P-supported CDN solutions much less attractive to Canadian customers.
The company also shared some internal data to disperse a common myth about BitTorrent. Rogers and other ISPs have argued before that BitTorrent is a 24/7 application that puts huge strains on networks by seeding files even when users aren’t in front of their PCs. BitTorrent Inc.’s own servers, however, paint a starkly different picture. “The average BitTorrent client is only active around 4 days each month, or between 10-20% of the time,” the filing reads.
Another contentious issue has been the behavior of BitTorrent clients, who, at least according to some, use as much bandwidth as is available without regards for other apps or services. BitTorrent Inc. has been dealing with this issue by introducing a new protocol with enhanced congestion control called uTP. There was a bit of controversy surrounding uTP when it first surfaced in late 2008, but eventually even critics seemed to be persuaded that the protocol would do more good than harm.
So where do things stand with uTP today? Some 400,000 beta testers are using the protocol in the wild, according to BitTorrent, and the company plans to roll it out to all of its users within weeks. From the filing: “[T]he eventual transition to uTP should have some very positive effects for the ISP community in the area of network congestion.” Unless, of course, the ISPs in question are still throttling BitTorrent.