Although the protocol is one of the most efficient means of distributing content around the Web, the company has received a cold shoulder from much of the entertainment industry.
“Probably one of the major stumbling blocks indeed, it would be hard to argue against it,” Mr. Klinker said of the service's reputation. “It's a little baffling to us; we're a technology provider and arguing against technology is like having an argument with gravity, it's not something that really makes a lot of sense if you think about it. But there's very clearly an emotional reaction that many mainstream publishers have to the brand or its perceived involvement in these activities. It's entirely misplaced, but it's there nonetheless.”
A few years ago, BitTorrent Inc. struck a deal with the MPAA to run a destination site where users could pay to download music using the technology.
“If you go looking for that property today, unfortunately you're not going to find it,” Mr. Klinker said. “We had to submit to some business realities there and shut it down as of November of last year. It simply proved to be not a business that we were particularly well-suited to pursue. We're a transport technology company ... and being in the media business is a very different business altogether.”
If only it were just an optics problem.
For it's not just the entertainment industries which have vilified BitTorrent. Internet service providers say that one of the biggest threats to the integrity of their networks and the ability to offer consistent service to their users is due to people using BitTorrent to download large files such as movies or games.
They argue that BitTorrent data clogs their networks by using a large percentage of their traffic space, which leads to a poor experience for the rest of the customers, the same way a lumbering tractor trailer can impede flow on the highway. Their solution has been to “shape” traffic, essentially slowing down certain kinds of Internet activity while giving other data priority. Most of the traffic being shaped is BitTorrent traffic.
Kevin Crull is the president of Bell's residential services division. One analogy he likes to use to describe the effect of BitTorrent traffic on the company's high speed networks is that of a buffet restaurant.
“You're second in line, and the person in front of you lets in a bus load of people,” Mr. Crull said. “We have a dedicated link from your home to our serving office, but then you go onto a shared network. And if there are only two people using that shared network, each of you gets half of it. If there are only 3 people using that network, each of you gets a third of it. What BitTorrent does is open up 10s or 100s of strings, so that if you are using the same shared network with a BitTorrent user, you might only get 1/100th of the available capacity because it opens up hundreds of links all at once. It's a clever technology.”
Bell is by no means the only ISP to institute traffic shaping policies. Rogers does it too. In the U.S., most of the major ISPs, including Comcast and Verizon, employ similar tactics.
Critics of this policy argue that by de-prioritizing certain traffic, ISPs are violating the unwritten democratic principle of net neutrality, which states that all Internet traffic must be treated equally.
Bell has come under fire for its traffic shaping policies from the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, an industry group representing independent ISPs, which has filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The CRTC plans to hold hearings on the matter later this summer.
“Ideally, if it was a perfect world, I'd be happy with the BitTorrent user and I'd just charge him his fair share, but we're not there yet,” Mr. Crull said.
With the way that BitTorrent currently operates, Rogers Communications chief strategy officer Mike Lee said it could be difficult for Mr. Cohen & Co. to turn BitTorrent Inc. into a legitimate business.
“There seems to be a 12-step program for peer-to-peer developers where everybody eventually wants to create a legitimate service,” Mr. Lee said in an interview. “The challenge I think is that when someone has to operate a legitimate business and the gives and takes associated with that, you find ways to make things work that can accommodate everybody's interest. The challenge is that they [BitTorrent]don't actually control the protocol any more. The protocol is a separate entity that is more driven around the objectives of either developers or consumers of the behaviour. So it's very difficult to predict. Even now we are seeing a shift from peer-to-peer and some of the behaviour and moving more toward downloading as opposed to full on symmetrical file sharing.”