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Comcast calls for 'P2P Bill of Rights'

Publicly attacked over file-sharing traffic management, cable giant says it's collaborating with P2P software maker Pando to craft industry best practices. Net neutrality fans aren't amused.

First, it was a very public detente with BitTorrent.

Then, on Tuesday, Comcast continued its make-nice-with-P2P campaign by announcing a new collaboration with P2P software maker Pando Networks. Specifically, they're leading the development of a "P2P Bill of Rights and Responsibilities," driven by input from "industry experts, other ISPs and P2P companies, content providers and others."

"By having this framework in place, we will help P2P companies, ISPs and content owners find common ground to support consumers who want to use P2P applications to deliver legal content," Comcast Chief Technology Officer Tony Werner said in a statement.

The companies also plan to test Pando technology designed to capture and analyze the flow of P2P traffic on Comcast's fiber-optic network and other Internet service providers' networks. The idea is to publish the results of the tests--which will measure "performance, speed, distance and geography as well as bandwidth consumption impact to the ISP"--so that other ISPs can learn how P2P applications might be optimized on their networks.

Pando, for its part, has already worked with Verizon and Yale University researchers to test "smarter" P2P routing techniques that have been found to drastically reduce network utilization and speed up downloads for subscribers.

a screen shot of Pando's P2P software Pando Networks

Comcast drew public criticism and a Federal Communications Commission probe after reports that it was delaying uploads of peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic on the BitTorrent protocol. Comcast has defended the move as necessary to keep its network running smoothly at peak hours for all users. But there have been allegations, including from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, that the company didn't do enough to inform its users about those activities.

The subject is likely to come up again this Thursday during a second FCC hearing at Stanford University, as well as at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on the "future of the Internet" scheduled for next week.

Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association--the industry group of which Comcast is a member--called the announcement "further evidence that private sector collaboration, not government intervention, is the most appropriate way to address complicated technological issues."

Proponents of Net neutrality rules--that is, barring network operators from prioritizing Internet content based on its ownership or type--have asked the FCC to declare that Comcast's peer-to-peer traffic management is not reasonable and therefore off limits.

One such group, Public Knowledge, called the agreement "long on rhetoric," "short on detail," and "ludicrous." Another group, Free Press, was similarly unimpressed by the company's latest overtures, saying the need for Net neutrality rules "remains urgent."

"Slick press releases by a dishonest would-be gatekeeper do nothing to protect consumers," said Marvin Ammori, the group's general counsel. "Comcast's announcement is little more than the fox telling the farmer, 'I'll guard the henhouse, you can go home.' And that's all the attention it deserves."