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BitTorrent's Gone Legit, But Still Faces Obstacles

Apparently the media companies are also applying a three-fold approach to BitTorrent, much as they did to Napster. First, several have sued users and those who host torrent tracker servers; second, some of the same players have embraced the company via the MPAA pact, noting that—again like Napster—the technology can be used for legitimate purposes; third, some ISPs that are also in the media delivery space have begun throttling torrent traffic.

The latter approach has attracted significant attention, especially from congress, as well as tangential project that was announced this week on Slashdot.

The congressional barrage is hitting from multiple sides, with Representative Rick Boucher, an advocate of fair use who also sits on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, taking Comcast to task after the AP put out a story confirming that Comcast was throttling BitTorrent traffic.

"The inability of customers to (share files) significantly diminishes their ability to utilize the internet for one of its most important applications, which is user-to-user content." said Rep. Boucher in a CNET interview.

The challenge was picked up by senators as well, with Senators Byron Dorgan and John Snow requesting an investigation on "the topic of service discrimination by phone and cable companies."

At the heart of congressional discomfort is the promise by phone and cable providers, back when The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed, to never discriminate against a particular type of traffic or squelch any message that traversed their data pipes.

Comcast, for its part, said that it "does not block access to any websites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services like BitTorrent," which was the official position of a press release, but then admitted in an interview with Brad Stone that was posted on his blog at The New York Times that Comcast "occasionally—but not always—delays some peer-to-peer file transfers that eat into internet speeds for other users on the network."

On the second front, the guys at The Pirate Bay have another bone to pick with Bram Cohen and the BitTorrent crew; Slashdot reported this week that an alternative protocol, potentially using the P2P extension (.p2p) instead of the Torrent extension (.torrent) was in the works and could see the light of day by the end of the year.

The reason cited was two-fold: first, a reaction to a decision by BitTorrent, Inc., to close off the protocol and move it from open source to proprietary. Second, as a way to defeat potential spamming.

"In comparison with a torrent file, which has a complex encoding," according to the wiki on the new protocol available at securep2p.net. "the '.p2p' format is simply a file in XML format containing the list of files in the bundle. This enables each file to have file-hashes making life more difficult for fakers and spammers."

Navin will deliver his keynote at 9 a.m. PST on November 6, the opening day of Streaming Media West.

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