Study says some file-sharing uploads hindered

WASHINGTON Thu May 15, 2008 5:40pm EDT

A customer checks out Music Store (on a screen) with Apple iTunes at an Apple store in Tokyo in this August 25, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota

A customer checks out Music Store (on a screen) with Apple iTunes at an Apple store in Tokyo in this August 25, 2006 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Kiyoshi Ota

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A study released on Thursday reinforced allegations that Comcast Corp is hindering some file-sharing services, such as BitTorrent, that distribute television shows and movies over its network.

The study issued by German research group Max Planck Institute for Software Systems added fuel to the "network neutrality" debate, concluding that Comcast and privately held cable operator Cox Communications have been slowing down uploads of files on their networks.

The study collected data from thousands of computer users around the world between March 18 and May 15 and found BitTorrent traffic was hindered at all hours of the day and every day of the week.

The network neutrality debate pits open-Internet advocates against some Internet service providers (ISPs), who say they need to take reasonable steps to manage ever-growing traffic on their networks for the good of all users.

"This research proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that consumers, Congress and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) must urgently pursue the complaints against network providers," said Ben Scott, policy director of the nonprofit watchdog group Free Press.

Comcast reiterated its position on Thursday that it "does not, has not, and will not block any websites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services like BitTorrent."

"We have acknowledged that we manage peer-to-peer traffic in a limited manner to minimize network congestion," the company said in a statement.

Cox issued a statement saying the company used "reasonable network management practices" for the benefit of its broadband customers.

"Cox allows the use of file-sharing and peer-to-peer services for uploads and downloads, and we allow access to all legal content, but we must manage the traffic impact of peer-to-peer services, as most ISPs do for the benefit of the customer," the company said in its statement.

Regulators at the FCC are looking into complaints from consumer groups that Comcast unreasonably hindered file-sharing services.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has expressed concern about some Comcast network practices, specifically that the company did not disclose more to customers and application developers about the way it manages traffic on its network.

Asked about the latest study, FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said the agency "is always concerned about allegations that broadband consumers aren't able to reach any legal content on the Internet that they choose."

"We would review any complaints that we receive," Kenny added.

Comcast, which has more than 13 million broadband subscribers, announced in March that it will change the way it manages its network later this year and cooperate with BitTorrent and other critics to resolve the dispute.

Comcast also said it would partner with a second file-sharing company and help create a "bill of rights" for consumers and Internet service providers.

(Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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