NBC: P2P Is Evil — Except When We Use It

nbcdirect.jpgNBC Universal filed comments with the FCC this week that side with Comcast on BitTorrent blocking. The company opposes Net Neutrality regulations because it wants ISPs to filter out copyrighted content, and it seems to be willing to blame P2P for all the bad things in the online world in order to get what it wants. NBC’s FCC statement claims that P2P networks “exacerbate” network congestion and that P2P apps trick end users into supplying bandwidth and processing power.

Maybe NBCU’s lawyers should have checked back with the team from NBC Direct before filing these comments. The ad-supported download platform for TV content announced this week that it will be using Pando’s P2P technology to “provide millions of viewers free DVD-quality downloads.”

The P2P-powered NBC Direct service is going to be available in the first quarter of this year and will feature HD downloads, according to a press release from Pando and NBC. The service will make use of what Pando is calling a “peer-assisted content delivery service,” which is essentially a traditional CDN solution with a P2P layer on top. Pando’s P2P technology is based on BitTorrent, a fact the company readily acknowledges on its web site.

That web site apparently wasn’t on the radar of the lawyers that wrote the media giant’s FCC filing, which claims that: “Because P2P networks send and receive huge files, congestion results, particularly for upstream traffic on cable networks.” The filing also has a few choice words for the core technology utilized by Pando’s P2P solution: “BitTorrent…consumes disproportionate amounts of upstream capacity by opening up multiple connection streams to seize capacity.”

Today’s broadband networks weren’t built with P2P distribution in mind, NBC argues, which is why BitTorrent and similar applications would put a “much greater strain on available upstream bandwidth than network engineers anticipated and built for.”

NBC also seems to believe that using P2P to distribute video content is kind of sneaky: “Many of these end users might not even be aware that their computers are being used to take the place of commercial servers and that their personal broadband subscriptions will be used by third parties to transmit copies of the content in question.”

To be fair, the filing does acknowledge the fact that P2P may be used for legal content delivery while not specifically mentioning NBC’s plans to do so. So how do you deal with the fact that blocking BitTorrent will also harm legal downloads? NBC’s answer is clear: Just install even more filters and eavesdrop on each and every file transmitted: “The Commission should enable and indeed applaud reasonable network management practices that carefully and appropriately address not only network congestion, but also the tidal wave of illegal file-sharing.”

NBC is pointing to AT&T as an example of an ISP’s willingness to install content filters, but the filing doesn’t explain how ISPs are supposed to deal with P2P protocol encryption and other tricks to bypass such filters — tricks that ironically might soon find their way into Pando’s software to deal with Comcast’s BitTorrent blocking.


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