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Everyone's a winner in the Comcast - BitTorrent detente

Everyone except the Neutralists?

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Policy created in election years tends to be infused with hyper-polarization, so to the extent that Comcast and BitTorrent can make the FCC calm down and let business take its course, consumers will be the winners. For the moment, BitTorrent also has a leg up on its litigious competitor in peer-to-peer TV, Vuze. But these two rivals may reach parity if the latter decides to focus on its core business, rather than than lawsuits that enable Vuze to profit from the use of other people's software to distribute other people's content over (still) other people's bandwidth.

A smarter network beats the dumber network

Another winner in the new Comcast order is tradition.

Since the days of three-digit RFCs, it's been standard practice for network operators to correct the TCP protocol's mistaken notion that fairness consists of the right to consume bandwidth in proportion to ones appetite by applying fair queuing at the entry to the first hop. One of the first to write about this was John Nagle, father of "Nagle's Algorithm", and the key internet RFCs 896 and 970.

Writing on Slashdot, Nagle said recently:

The way [congestion control] was supposed to work is that TCP needs to be well-behaved because it is to the advantage of the endpoint to be well-behaved. What makes this work is enforcement of fair queuing at the first router entering the network. Fair queuing balances load by IP address, not TCP connection, and 'weighted fair queueing [sic]' allows quality of service controls to be imposed at the entry router. "

The losers are those who still think, against all the evidence, that the Internet is a "stupid network".

New equipment permits Comcast to enforce fair queuing at the first router inside their network, and a better understanding of tradition motivates BitTorrent to curb its appetite. In the future, this equipment and its complements will permit users to apply their own preferences to the various streams they generate at the same time, so they won't even have to worry about the effect that one member of their family's uploads have on others' web browsing and VoIP sessions.

Comcast isn't there yet, but the replacement of application-centric network infrastructure with traffic-sensitive equipment is a strong step in the right direction, and all of us who buy network services from the cable company should be happy about it.®

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