Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.
This week it was discovered that Comcast has been blocking or severely throttling BitTorrent - a popular file sharing technology. BitTorrent is what's known as a peer-to-peer file sharing technology which distributes a file among many users or peers and allows them to share and exchange parts of that file with each other rather than having a single copy of a file in a central location that everyone simply downloads. It's pretty cool technology that's perfect for downloading large files.
There are two problems with BitTorrent.
The most common issue people think of when you hear "peer to peer file sharing" is of course illegal music and video downloads. Indeed, perhaps the vast majority of BitTorrent traffic is exactly that. The problem is that it's not the technology that's at fault - it's how that technology is being used. In fact, even as I write this I'm using BitTorrent to get a copy of the latest Ubuntu Linux distribution; a totally legal and valid use.
The second problem is that people are using it to download large files. Lots of large files. All that file sharing eats up a lot of bandwidth, and that's apparently the excuse that ISPs like Comcast are using to justify their actions.
There are two basic problems with blocking or throttling a specific technology or protocol like BitTorrent.
At best it's a game of virtual whack-a-mole. The technologies will evolve to bypass throttles and blocks. In fact, the more popular the technology, the quicker the evolution will happen. Blocking a technology simply doesn't make sense if bandwidth conservation is your goal.
Blocking because it "might" be used illegally makes even less sense. Just because the technology can be used for illegal purposes, or even if it's primarily being used for illegal purposes, doesn't mean that blocking it is the answer. That is throwing the baby out with the bathwater by simultaneously blocking any valid use of that technology.
Unfortunately blocking and throttling are quick, knee-jerk reactions that don't require a lot of thought or judgment.
The right solution? In my opinion if people are abusing your technology, identify the abusers. If there are bandwidth hogs, throttle them or charge them more. And if someone's doing something illegal, deal with the illegal activity, not the tools used to accomplish it.
Yes, it's more difficult.
Doing the right thing often is.
I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 11928 in the go to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse over 1,200 technical questions and answers on the site.
Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.
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