Call it a kind of bigotry for the new millennium. The packets of peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent have become the target of throttling—even complete blockage—by Internet service providers on their networks. Do they have the right?
The revelation comes from study results published yesterday by Germany’s Max Plunk Institute of Software Systems computer research group, which identified 13 ISPs engaged in the practices, including Comcast, Cox and seven others in the U.S.
In response, Comcast said it monitors peek traffic times and slows peer-to-peer packets to give other services access. Data in the study contradicts that claim, showing that both Comcast and Cox throttle P2P packets “independent of time of day.”
Still, compared with the 1,224 ISPs in the survey, the number found to be limiting traffic was relatively small. And who’s to say they don’t have a right? Virtually all the coverage I’ve read portrays the ISPs as the bad guys, and perhaps the providers are biased. But should government play a role?
Packets from peer-to-peer applications reportedly account for between 50 percent and 90 percent of all traffic moving through measured hosts. And if all that traffic is slowing people’s phone calls or video streams, doesn’t the service provider have an obligation to adequately serve those consumers?
The Open Internet Coalition, Free Press and other advocacy groups are calling for the U.S. Congress to enact legislation to stop companies from deciding which traffic is allowed, how much and when. I think that’s a very bad idea. Suppose someone found a way to identify and block denial of service attacks or other hacking? Or a way to block traffic to and from sites maintained by known terrorists or pedophiles? Shouldn’t those be blocked?
I believe the issue should be left to free markets to decide. If one ISP blocks BitTorrent traffic, for example, and another does not, free people will migrate to the network that serves them best. Anytime government curtails liberty by imposing restrictions, the ultimate results is less freedom, not more.