In an open letter to Internet service providers published earlier this week, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban calls for telecoms to put an end to peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing. Cuban expresses concerns that P2P “freeloaders” are clogging the tubes with commercial content. His letter doesn’t focus on piracy, however, and instead primarily attacks companies that use P2P for legitimate commercial applications. Being from the same hometown, we’re always interested to read the musings of Mr. Cuban, but this time we’re pretty sure he’s missed the point.
“If I was a Comcast customer, I would tell them, as I am now telling all the services I am a customer of: BLOCK P2P TRAFFIC, PLEASE. As a consumer, I want my Internet experience to be as fast as possible. The last thing I want slowing my Internet service down are P2P freeloaders,” says Cuban. “Thats right, P2P content distributors are nothing more than freeloaders. The only person/organization that benefits from P2P usage are those that are trying to distribute content and want to distribute it on someone else’s bandwidth dime… When consumers provide their bandwidth to assist commercial applications, they are subsidizing those commercial applications which if it isn’t already, should be against an ISPs terms of service.”
Strangely, Cuban posted an update on his open letter, encouraging P2P users to use Google Video instead. “I wanted to offer the best alternative to P2P for audio and video….. Google Video. If you are trying to do distribution of audio or video, why in the world would you use P2P when Google Video will host and distribute it very efficiently and for free?”
Of course, there are many legitimate uses for P2P that Google Video can’t replace, like distributing Linux ISOs. Furthermore, the notion that the only people who benefit from P2P technology are the distributors is wrong. If I have the option of grabbing a download from a distant single server or from a torrent with hundreds of users, I’m going to opt for the torrent. Why? It’s almost guaranteed to be faster, and let’s face it: most BitTorrent software is quite adept at managing large downloads. Perhaps I want to throttle it while playing a game; perhaps I want to encrypt my transfers. If I’m distributing video or audio, perhaps I don’t wish to be bound by the terms of Google Video.
Maybe Mr. Cuban knows something about network architecture that eludes my mental grasp, for I fail to see how using Google Video instead of P2P will make anyone’s Internet connection any faster. If users who are currently saturating their connections with BitTorrent start saturating their connections with Google Video content, the end result is more or less the same.
And this raises the question: what, exactly, is wrong with users saturating their connections? They are, after all, paying for that connectivity, and most ISPs are keen to market their higher-cost, higher-speed services. Dictating how bandwidth can be used will not make bandwidth any faster or cheaper, nor will attempting to play favorites with what kind of Internet traffic is legit or not.