Clever Verizon

March 14, 2008

I read that Verizon is looking into enhancing P2P, not fighting it. Smart guys.

Verizon wins for at least three reasons. By embracing P2P, and promoting services that use it, they will create a demand for a product that Comcast cannot match without spending a bit of money to upgrade their last miles. As long as cable users share coax and bandwidth, there are limits to how many P2P users Comcast can support before they run into (local) bottlenecks. This is one reason they’ve been throttling P2P file sharing.

Reason number two is probably a little less popular with the propellerhead crowd. Cable internet providers who throttle P2P bandwidth have driven the P2P users to deploy encryption to make their connections harder to recognize. This cannot make the spooks happy; back when I ran filesharing, I uploaded a terabyte of data, and about a third of that was (RC160, I think) encrypted. The NSA has many computers, but there are limits, and if everyone is making encrypted connections, that is going to obfuscate traffic analysis of encrypted connections. (It is my assumption that the NSA and FBI do have a legitimate need for some wiretaps, and that there are Bad Guys out there that I do want them listening to. Once they’ve got their warrant, I’d prefer that they be able to do their job.) By embracing P2P, Verizon reduces the urge to encrypt. There’s other caching tricks that providers like Verizon can use, if connections are not encrypted, that are somewhat better for everyone.

Reason number three is their trick for tending to localize connections and to provide bandwidth incentives to their customers. Again, this has got to make the spooks happier. When I uploaded my terabyte, I sent bits (often encrypted) all over the world. The more traffic is localized, the less likely I am to ship bits internationally, the smaller the haystack within which the NSA must search for its needles.

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