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Should you block P2P traffic?

Questions raised by the FCC's ruling against Comcast

Wide Area Networking Alert By Steve Taylor and Jim Metzler, Network World
August 19, 2008 12:10 AM ET
Jim Metzler
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Insightful analysis by consultants Steve Taylor and Jim Metzler, plus links to the latest WAN news headlines

In the past two newsletters we've been discussing the FCC's ruling on Comcast selectively blocking certain applications - especially peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic - in its Internet service. This raises once again the question of whether P2P traffic is inherently "bad." 

Of course, P2P traffic got off to a bad start in terms of its reputation. One of the earliest applications was Napster, which was, of course, primarily used for sharing music. But there’s nothing new about “recreational” programs being blocked initially on corporate networks, only to be found later to be of significant use internally. Several years ago, Steve was doing computer-based instruction on ATM for the ATM Forum. The best platform for the day was RealAudio. One of the biggest obstacles, however, was that his primary contact had to review the work from her home because her employer blocked RealAudio traffic.

And then there’s instant messaging. Need I say more?

Who’s to say that BitTorrent, one of the focal points of the FCC decision, won’t soon be used for educational content distribution within the corporate network? Another type of traffic that might be viewed as “recreational” is simply viewing YouTube videos. And while we would usually agree with that last statement, we’ve also found some excellent tutorial presentations there.

This, of course, comes full circle to the FCC ruling. A good number of corporations have now endorsed using Skype as a part of their overall telecommunications strategy. With the constantly growing use of the Internet for telecommuting, having P2P communications blocked a priority could put a significant kink in the corporate network.

The bottom line is that we see this ruling as a significant step forward. Technology can solve many issues for us, but ultimately responsible use of the network comes from having (and enforcing) an acceptable-use policy for your network.

As always, we’d like to hear from you on this topic. And since the “news” portion of this ruling will soon rotate off the FCC’s home page, we’ll leave you with these references for your further reading. (Note that the decision was not unanimous. Rather, it was a split3-2 decision.)

Main press release

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin 

Commissioner Michael J. Copps

Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein 

Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate 

Commissioner Robert M. McDowell 

Read more about lans & wans in Network World's LANs & WANs section.

Steve Taylor is president of Distributed Networking Associates and publisher/editor-in-chief of Webtorials. Jim Metzler is vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates.

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