A new version of uTorrent, the popular software application used to share files, has stirred up debate over whether it is good or bad for the internet because of its ability to get around the speed throttling being employed by service providers.
The new version of the peer-to-peer file-sharing application, which is owned by San Francisco-based BitTorrent Inc., uses a different technical approach than its predecessor versions to transfer files. Rather than relying on traditional Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to connect one internet user to another, the new uTorrent incorporates a different method known as User Datagram Protocol (UDP).
Internet service providers including Bell Canada Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. are currently slowing down TCP-based peer-to-peer applications, including older versions of uTorrent. The companies say the throttling is necessary because a small percentage of subscribers are causing congestion on their networks by using file-sharing programs.
UDP, which accounts for only two per cent of internet traffic and has typically been used in situations where little delay can be tolerated such as internet-based phone calls, may make it more difficult for the companies to throttle uTorrent by better disguising it with other internet uses. Delay sensitive services such as voice-over-internet protocol and online gaming also use UDP.
Could strain system
Some commentators on Monday said a shift to the new version of the software could lead to an "internet meltdown" by straining uses such as web browsing and video streaming.
"Gamers, VOIP and video conference users beware. The leading BitTorrent software authors have declared war on you," wrote Richard Bennett, a Silicon Valley network architect and opponent of net neutrality, in an article on The Register.
"A key design change in the P2P application promises to make the headaches faced by ISPs so far look like a party game."
BitTorrent employees, however, disagreed with Bennett's sentiments.
"The whole point of [UDP] is to offer better congestion control than TCP at the same speed," Simon Morris, BitTorrent's head of product management, told DSLReports.com. "It's not designed to offer faster speed with worse congestion control as Bennett suggests... We are trying to help people on the internet — and ISPs too. The idea we'd 'declare war' is unfortunately sensationalist nonsense."
Some Canadian internet users have indicated on message boards that the new version of uTorrent is helping them evade Bell's throttling.
Two weeks ago, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that Bell could continue throttling its customers, despite arguments by net neutrality advocates that the practice is discriminatory. The CRTC will hold a public consultation next year to determine what sort of network management practices are acceptable.