Comcast Abandons P2P Bill of Rights

Comcast SVP Rich Woundy told the audience of the DCIA’s P2P Media Summit in Los Angeles on Monday that his company is not spearheading the creation of a P2P Bill of Rights anymore. Instead, Comcast will take part in a newly formed working group of the Distributed Computing Industry Association that aims to define best practices for the P2P industry.

Comcast had proposed a set of guidelines called “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for P2P Users and Service Providers” in cooperation with the P2P startup Pando less than three weeks ago. The proposal came just two days before an FCC hearing at Stanford University about Comcast’s ongoing practice of throttling BitTorrent traffic. The suspicious timing and the vague wording of the proposed guidelines were some of the reasons why consumer rights groups decried them as “ludicrous.” The DCIA now hopes to start a more substantial dialogue among ISPs, P2P companies and rights holders, but statements from movie industry execs made at the association’s Media Summit show that this won’t be a walk in the park either.

DCIA CEO Marty Lafferty told me that the best practices working group is in the process of signing up members right now, with the first meeting being scheduled for May 20 in New York, in conjunction with the Streaming Media East conference. The group is supposed to include ISPs and P2P companies, many of which are also cooperating on the development of the P4P protocol, as well as rights holders and the respective trade bodies of the industry.

Lafferty said he eventually wants to extend the invitation to consumer advocacy groups like Public Knowledge and Free Press, but added that he believes the industry should form some sort of consensus first. He seemed optimistic about getting to such a point before the end of the year and expressed confidence that a neutral body like the DCIA should be able to bring the different interest groups together. Said Lafferty: “We are like Switzerland.”

MPAA COO and President Bob Pisano however struck a different tone with his keynote speech at the DCIA’s Summit. “You can’t be Switzerland,” he told the P2P companies in the audience, demanding that efforts to optimize the impact of P2P traffic on ISP’s networks should not ignore piracy. Taking a clear swipe at the Net Neutrality advocates, he continued: “You cannot be neutral in this fight.”

The MPAA has long advocated against Net Neutrality, arguing that ISPs need the ability to regulate traffic on a protocol and even a file-by-file basis to combat piracy. Pisano told his audience that the MPAA has been talking to ISPs to get them to filter content, and companies like AT&T have previously expressed a willingness to cooperate with the entertainment industry.

The debate about Comcast’s BitTorrent filtering, however, has led to a backlash against ISP interference, with most providers now promising a hands-off approach, much to the dismay of Hollywood. This rift could doom the DCIA’s best practices efforts. Pisano told his audience on Monday that the MPAA is interested in the DCIA’s best practices working group, but that piracy is “the white elephant in the room” the group has to address to succeed.