Verizon and AT&T Ban BitTorrent On Wireless Networks

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A recent Net Neutrality proposal from Google and Verizon has dominated the news this week, with opponents claiming that the deal would kill Net Neutrality on wireless (cellular) networks. What hasn't been mentioned thus far, however, is that BitTorrent and other types of evil traffic have already been banned for years by Verizon, AT&T and others.

This week, Google has been bashed by dozens of self-respecting news outlets on the Internet after it published a joint proposal with Verizon that aims to preserve Net Neutrality. Most of the critique is aimed at the suggestion of limiting the proposed rules to wired networks for now, while leaving wireless networks untouched.

Although the proposal is far from perfect, we are even more surprised by the misplaced outrage towards Google. How can it be that thousands of reporters and activists claim that the Google / Verizon deal will kill Net Neutrality if there’s no such thing in the first place?

Next week marks the three year anniversary of the story that Comcast was preventing BitTorrent users from uploading content to others after they had finished downloading. Rightfully so, Comcast’s practices led to a thorough FCC investigation and the ISP was eventually punished for its interventions.

But Comcast was not the only one who play(ed)s foul.

Despite Net Neutrality being in the spotlight for nearly three years due to the Comcast debacle, nobody seemed to pay attention to the fact that wireless broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T were completely banning BitTorrent traffic on their networks.

In the spring of 2007, months before Comcast’s BitTorrent blocking practices were revealed, we already reported that Verizon was not allowing any BitTorrent traffic on its wireless networks. In the years that followed the company slightly changed the wording of its Terms of Service, but up until today BitTorrent users are still not welcome.

Verizon isn’t the only wireless carrier with such a policy either. The Terms of Service at AT&T for example, includes the following section under the heading Prohibited and Permissible Uses.

While most common uses for Intranet browsing, email and intranet access are permitted by your data plan, there are certain uses that cause extreme network capacity issues and interference with the network and are therefore prohibited. Examples of prohibited uses include, without limitation, the following: (i) server devices or host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, automated machine-to-machine connections or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing.

That doesn’t sounds very neutral does it?

For years nobody gave a cent for Net Neutrality on wireless networks, but this all changed a few days ago when Google and Verizon presented their plans. The thousands of reports, calls for protests, petitions and random Google bashing that followed were mind-blowing to say the least.

Although we’re not backing the proposal, we can’t help but note that Google’s proposal is in essence very similar to the (widely praised) Net Neutrality regulations that were suggested a few month ago by the FCC. On several points it’s actually an improvement, as the EFF also noted.

Even the most troubling part of Google’s proposal – that wireless networks would be excluded for the time being – is not much different from what the FCC suggested. In fact, buried in their proposals the FCC also acknowledged that wireless networks needed special treatment.

“We seek comment on the application of the principles to different access platforms, including how, in what time frames or phases, and to what extent the principles should apply to non-wireline forms of Internet access,” the FCC wrote in their proposed rulemaking (pdf) a few months ago.

Despite this vagueness about how the rules would apply to wireless networks, the majority of the Net Neutrality proponents hailed the FCC proposal. Take this comment from Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press for example:

“After years of hard work, we are pleased that the FCC has begun this crucially important rulemaking on Network Neutrality. A well-crafted Net Neutrality rule can ensure that the open Internet continues to serve as a great force for economic innovation and democratic participation for all Americans.”

Then compare that the statement Free Press released a few hours ago, when it rallied support for a protest at Google’s offices.

“In the week since news of Google’s deal with Verizon broke, more than 300,000 people have signed letters calling on Google to abandon the proposal, which threatens to destroy Network Neutrality – the fundamental principle that keeps the Internet open and free from discrimination.”

Seriously, we don’t understand where all the hatred towards Google comes from. The proposal is not going to destroy Net Neutrality, simply because Net Neutrality doesn’t exist yet.

In our view, the proposal is a great step forward to Net Neutrality on wired networks, something that doesn’t yet exist. Of course it still leaves the door open for BitTorrent throttling, but so did the FCC proposal.

The reality is that the Internet would be better off with the rules put forward in the Google / Verizon proposal than with no rules at all. That said, wireless networks need to be neutral in the long run of course.

Whether running a lot of BitTorrent downloads on a Wireless network is wise thing at the moment is doubtful though. George Ou of the Digital Society told TorrentFreak that “a single BitTorrent user would ruin the experience on the entire cell tower. There are just too many random packets being flung into the air.”

I guess the take home message is that you can’t kill something that isn’t there. So, if all the people who are so outraged at Google’s proposal could also organize protests at the offices of Verizon and AT&T to demand the right to use BitTorrent on their wireless services, we’ll stop complaining.


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