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Vuze CEO Gilles BianRosa almost didn’t make it to NewTeeVee Live two weeks ago, because his company was busy filing a petition with the FCC to stop ISPs like Comcast from interfering with P2P traffic. The petition has since gotten a lot of positive feedback from consumer and industry associations, but BianRosa sees it as just a first step. He primarily wants the FCC to step in and mandate a hands-off approach — but he also wants to start a dialogue with ISPs about the future of P2P and network management.
Granted, government mandates aren’t widely considered great conversation starters. Then again, a company that publicly denies any wrongdoing, even in the face of hard evidence, isn’t your average coffee-shop flirt. So how are things going with the FCC petition, what are the next steps, and what does all of this mean for the debate about net neutrality? We caught up with BianRosa this week to get an update.
Comcast’s interference with BitTorrent traffic has brought the net neutrality issue back into the spotlight in recent weeks. The ISP hasn’t been the first one messing with torrent downloads though. BianRosa of Vuze, formerly known as Azureus, said he knows that various ISPs have been trying to regulate and sometimes outright block BitTorrent traffic for the last two years. So why did the company decide to get involved now? “It’s not too early and it’s not too late,” BianRosa told me. P2P has become a significant factor in the emerging online video industry, with everyone from PBS to Showtime utilizing Vuze and its competitors’ platforms.
ISPs, on the other hand, are still experimenting with traffic management while trying to figure out how to deal with the demands these new services put on their networks, and not all of their approaches seem to be very well thought out. “Some of the techniques the ISPs are using (to interrupt BitTorrent transmissions) are nothing more than hacking techniques,” said BianRosa. Getting the FCC involved is an attempt to put an end to it all. “It’s a way of saying that we are serious about this,” he said, noting that Vuze would be willing to talk about optimizing its protocol to help ISPs once this issue is settled.
Vuze has gotten support for its petition from groups like Public Knowledge, as well as the Open Internet Coalition, an organization that counts Google, eBay and EarthLink among its members. The company isn’t trying to spearhead a political movement for net neutrality, though. Although they were happy to get a nod from the Obama campaign, BianRosa sees no need for Congress to get involved. “This is a very simple industry issue,” he told me. The FCC previously issued a policy statement championing an open Internet; Vuze believes it’s time to go a step further and enact rules to enforce these open-access principles. “This could be a good way to make pragmatic progress on the net neutrality issues,” said BianRosa.
Interestingly enough, so far the FCC petition hasn’t seen too much open support from other P2P vendors. Jaman CEO Gaurav Dhillon even suggested at NewTeeVee Live that his company was immune to issues like these because it is using a proprietary P2P protocol that isn’t used for piracy. BianRosa calls this a fallacious argument. He believes that ISPs don’t care about the nature of the content they are blocking. “Piracy is something that is blurring the issue,” Dhillon said.
So what’s next? The FCC will officially publish the petition during the next few weeks; after that it’s up to others to weigh in and submit their own comments. The commission might decide to hold hearings about this some time next year and then make up its mind about possible actions. BianRosa can’t wait for this to happen — and not just because it would make things easier for Vuze. Sure, the company is in a unique position to make an impact because it’s actually affected by ISPs interfering with network traffic. But BianRosa doesn’t seem too keen on the idea of becoming an Internet freedom activist. As he said: “We really just want to deal with our users.”