BitTorrent's Battle for Bandwidth Intensifies

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Thanks to a growing appetite among Web surfers for multimedia content, and a glut of music and videos to download, some ISPs are putting the kibosh on the free-flowing bandwidth party.

Comcast is among major ISPs that have begun targeting bandwidth-guzzling applications such as BitTorrent by limiting the amount of bandwidth accessible to those applications.

Comcast says it must take action in order to ensure that a handful of customers don't gobble up more than their fare share of bandwidth, slowing Internet speeds for others.

But companies such as BitTorrent are not happy fwith the way Comcast and other ISPs are singling them out and potentially threatening their business models. BitTorrent in particular has deals with Hollywood to distribute TV shows and movies using a version of its peer-to-peer (P-to-P, or P2P) technology and software. BitTorrent estimates that 150 million people use its technology.

"ISPs like Comcast want to throw the baby out with the bathwater," says Ashwin Navin, president and cofounder of BitTorrent.

Another company, Vuze, is similarly rattled. The company is petitioning the Federal Communication Commission to adopt regulations that prevent ISPs from interfering with P2P traffic. Vuze also has deals with media companies to distribute licensed content to consumers via the BitTorrent protocol.

BitTorrent is being singled out, but its issues are symptomatic of a larger challenge to ISPs, say several industry analysts. ISPs are being forced to be stingier with bandwidth in order to compensate for aging network infrastructures that can't keep up with consumer demand for bandwidth, says Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group. Calls seeking comment from several major ISPs were not immediately returned.

The Vuze BitTorrent client called Azureus is used for downloading both licensed and pirated content from P2P networks.
The BitTorrent protocol is also an easy target for ISPs because of its widespread use for pirating software and multimedia content. Unlike other bandwidth-intensive applications such as Xbox 360 consoles and sites such as YouTube, the open-source BitTorrent protocol has been implemented for use among illegal file sharers.

Too Good for Its Own Good?

BitTorrent's protocol is widely considered to be one of the most capable ways of distributing large data files across the Internet. It efficiently breaks files into many hundreds of pieces. When file swappers want to download a file, they may be downloading bits of the file from multiple sources. This distributed method best ensures the file's availability and reduces the amount of bandwidth necessary to upload a single file from a P-to-P user's PC. Someone who uses BitTorrent to download lots of movies, however, will use a lot of their ISP's bandwidth.

"It's unclear whether or not ISPs are blocking BitTorrent traffic to combat piracy or because of network issues," says Gilles BianRosa, CEO of Vuze. The company claims to have 12 million users of its Azureus Vuze software client for downloading licensed P-to-P files.

BianRosa says that during October Vuze delivered one million hours of high-quality video to users of its software. He says he has no idea how much illicit content was downloaded using his company's software client in the same time frame.

BigChampagne, a company that tracks file sharing, reports that at any given moment during the last week of October at least 92,461 digital files of top-100 movie titles were being downloaded to any one of a dozen BitTorrent software clients.

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