Peer-to-Peer (P2P) has been around for years now. Once the bane of fixed network operators, it is also causing mobile operators significant challenges. The problem with P2P traffic is, there is a lot of it. P2P protocols will typically utilize all and any bandwidth available. However, digging into the P2P content may not be the best idea for service providers. It seems that AT&T has recently filed a patent to monitor P2P content a store/cache popular content locally (details here -TorrentFreak).
The concept of caching is older than P2P itself and there are several vendors out there that have been successfully caching P2P traffic for ISPs around the world. However, there is always a fine line when caching traffic that may have legal ramifications. Some folks are still a touch sensitive about the content they create and about people who don’t pay to view/consume it. Most solutions available today, do their very best to anonymize the data they cache.
Hey, come closer! I am going to let you in one of the industry’s best kept secrets, are you ready for it? Most P2P traffic is the exchange of illegal copyrighted material such as movies and TV shows. I know, it’s shocking, you’re probably asking yourself, why has it taken so long for the truth to come out? Well, it’s a lawyer thing. When Hollywood studios and their lawyers pounce on the ISPs, the typical response is “hey we just deliver the traffic”. It is often equated to the postal service, they just deliver the mail, and they don’t open your correspondence to peek inside (hmm, some would say that’s the NSA’s job). So, ISPs have taken the defense that they do not know what’s in the load they’re carrying so they sure as heck shouldn’t be legally responsible or accountable for any copyright infringements or breaches. So why in heavens name would they want to start opening up BitTorrent packets and figuring which illegal movies are the most popular this week so they can perform a community service or prevent congestion.
Some would say AT&T has more lawyers than customer service representatives. You got to figure they know what they’re doing, but with legal streaming on the rise, it would seem that in the long term, the impact of P2P should decline. We have already seen this in the music space, surely video should follow as networks get better.
Additionally, operators have other methods to deal with this problematic traffic. Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) has been used for years to combat (slow/de-prioritize/block) P2P traffic. A fantastic new report (Disclaimer: OK, I wrote it, but it is a good read) on DPI has just been released analyst firm EMI detailing exactly how DPI is used by operators (report here).
An ongoing case between Voltage, the studio that created the Dallas Buyers Club, and large ISP in Australia, iiNet, underlines the defense used by ISPs. In this case, the Australian High Court’s judgment noted that “iiNet had no direct technical power at its disposal to prevent a customer from using the BitTorrent system to download the appellants’ films on that customer’s computer”.
So maybe digger deeper into P2P is not such a great idea.