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Comcast proposes P2P 'bill of rights'

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As the FCC continues to investigate its choke hold on BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic, Comcast has proposed a "bill of rights and responsibilities" for P2P users and internet service providers.

The big-name cable ISP is already partnering with one P2P outfit on the project - the New York-based Pando Networks - and it hopes to enlist countless other companies from both sides of The Great Network Management Debate.

"By having this framework in place, we will help P2P companies, ISPs and content owners find common ground to support consumers who want to use P2P applications to deliver legal content,” said a canned statement from Comcast chief technology officer Tom Werner.

The project begins Monday, when Comcast and Pando meet with Martin Lafferty, head of the Distributed Computing Industry Association (DCIA), a four-year-old trade organization intent on commercializing P2P and other distributed technologies.

"We're going to formally create a DCIA working group and it will be open to any peer-to-peer technology provider, any ISP, and any content owner or representative," Pando CEO Robert Levitan told us. "And at some point, we're all going to sit down and say 'OK. What can we agree are good principles for peer-to-peer applications?' And companies will be able to stand up and say 'We adhere to these.'

"You don't want peer-to-peer technology providers who aren't playing nicely with consumers. And that goes for content owners and ISPs too," he continued. "We want to ask questions like: Does an ISP block peer-to-peer just because its peer-to-peer? Or are there ISPs who are willing to say 'We're not going to block P2P if we know it's good P2P'?"

Levitan and Lafferty also plan to include longtime P2P opponents like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA). According to Lafferty, the MPAA has already approached him about the project and will be represented at Monday's meeting.

And to balance things out, the DCIA may invite public advocates like Free Press, one of the organizations that encouraged the FCC to probe Comcast's BitTorrent busting. "We want to get the voice of the consumer in this as well," Lafferty said. "After all, we're couching this a bill of rights and responsibilities, and the end user is really critical."

In May, tests from an independent researcher showed that Comcast was preventing users from "seeding" BitTorrents and other P2P files. And the FCC launched its formal investigation in January, after The Associated Press published tests that verified the researcher's findings.

Comcast's bill of rights is just the company's latest attempt to convince the FCC it shouldn't be regulated. Last month, the company announced it would stop throttling BitTorrents by the end of year, agreeing to adopt an alternative method of controlling upload traffic on its cable-based internet service.

But the FCC has made it clear the investigation will continue. The bill of rights announcement came just two days before another FCC hearing dedicated to discussing Comcast's behavior and other "network management" practices. Late yesterday, the FCC invited Comcast to attend the hearing, which will play out on the campus of Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.

"Establishing a specific and clearly defined P2P Bill of Rights is an interesting idea with potentially important implications for all Internet users," FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said. "We look forward to more fully understanding the goals, scope and time frame of this industry effort."

But Comcast has decided not to attend. "Comcast has already appeared before the Commission on network management issues and has made extensive filings at the FCC both on our past and current practices as well as our recent announcements," reads a company statement. "We felt issues specific to us were well covered at the first hearing and the focus of this event should be broader than any individual company's issues."

Hopefully, the company won't pay people to attend on its behalf. ®

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