Verizon, a leading provider of broadband services in the U.S., is the belle of the blogs today thanks to its work with a p2p trade group on a technology to speed p2p downloads. The technique, developed by researchers from Yale and the University of Washington, enables p2p software and broadband networks to work together to select the most efficient way to deliver a requested file.
For ISPs, this "P4P" approach offers a way to cut the amount of bandwidth hoovered by file-sharing applications -- in particular, the costly bandwidth between the ISP's local network and the rest of the Internet. That's because it would help downloaders obtain as much as possible from the shortest possible electronic paths.
But it also raises some intriguing questions. If an ISP's network actively assisted every p2p transfer, would the MPAA and/or the RIAA try to hold the ISP liable for all the movies and songs downloaded without permission? Alternatively, if an ISP made the P4P boost available only to selected p2p networks, would it be discriminating unfairly against some content and application providers? In other words, would it run afoul of the FCC's Net neutrality principles? According to the AP's account, Verizon (which opposes tough Net neutrality rules) intends to work only with p2p networks such as Pando that are managed in a way that prevents rampant piracy. Yet Verizon's work on P4P has been done in conjunction with the Distributed Computing Industry Assn., which touted the technique to the FCC in its comments in favor of the aforesaid neutrality principles. My guess is that, in concept, P4P is the kind of reasonable network management that even the strongest proponents of Net neutrality favor. But I also suspect that P4P would no longer fit the bill if ISPs used it to speed up some p2p networks but not others, based solely on the p2p software's ability to be used for piracy online.