There’s an interesting interview at TorrentFreak with inventor Bram Cohen. BitTorrent is trying to go legit by providing a load-balanced bandwidth distribution through P2P networks. They are making some in roads by scoring partnerships with media companies. I’m sure the venture capital connections are helping. Of course, it still doesn’t change the fact that the majority of traffic is for pirated content.
The fact that BitTorrent is able to create these partnerships is testimony to the potential of the torrent protocol. The fact is that a lot of the bandwidth average users are allocated by their ISP is underutilized while the single biggest cost of digital content distribution is bandwidth. Even if a company has a large digital library, the cyclical nature of content popularity and peak bandwidth requirements make investment in bandwidth infrastructure prohibitive.
I’m sure companies are also paying attention to BitTorrent as a potential rival to the current winner-take-all environment dominated by Apple’s iTunes. With BitTorrent, media companies have complete freedom to call the shots.
However, the biggest obstacle currently facing BitTorrent (as mentioned in the interview) is that fact that ISPs are less than enthusiastic in making infrastructure investments to provide customers with enough bandwidth to support their digital consumption habits. In some cases, torrent traffic is detected by ISPs and throttled.
Although Bram is trying to work out a solution without resorting to an “arms race” as he puts it of obfuscating or encrypting torrent traffic I don’t see anything short of legislation or political pressure forcing ISPs to invest more in their infrastructure.
To most ISPs, additional investments in bandwidth infrastructure are probably not attractive since it means they need to recoup those costs over time. You can also be sure to see digital consumption habits simply increase to use up additional bandwidth.
However, in the greater scheme of things as PCs get more powerful, such increases are important to create an environment of innovation. There’s a lot more developers can do with more bandwidth combined with increased processing power.
It’ll be interesting to see how well BitTorrent manages this.