For many years Internet Service Providers from all over the world have throttled or even banned BitTorrent traffic on their networks.
Claims often heard on the news from high speed internet providers is that heavy users are using too much resources and bandwidth and are making them lose a lot of money.
Well, not according to a new paper out from Northwestern University and Telefónica Research that studies how P2P applications affect ISPs. The paper claims to look at the whole ecosystem, across network boundaries and geographical borders to detail the effect of the entire system of files.
As far as larger ISPs concern, there’s an upside to BitTorrent as well. In fact, companies like Comcast make a substantial amount of money from BitTorrent traffic.
The goal of the research was to understand the network impact of BitTorrent, both in terms of traffic and the costs involved. To answer these questions the researchers conducted a 2-year study where they tracked the downloads of 500,000 people for 169 different countries. The end result is an interesting trend report which, among other things, shows how BitTorrent traffic has developed over time.
A third of BitTorrent traffic stays local: Thirty-two percent of BitTorrent traffic stays in the country of origin and 49 percent of traffic is intra-domain or crosses a single peering or sibling network link.
BitTorrent traffic doesn’t usually hit the big backbone transit providers: That’s partly because it stays local and partly because the largest amount of BitTorrent traffic stays inside a local area network run by a hosting company or enterprise.
BitTorrent traffic occurs at the same time as peak web traffic and it’s growing: The old myth that BitTorrent users were up late at night seeding files has evolved and most users are sharing files during the day. Many are doing so during “peak traffic times,” which the researchers don’t disclose unless daytime means peak traffic time.
The researchers translated their findings into the actual costs and revenues of Internet providers and found that contrary to what the public would expect, large Tier 2 ISPs actually make money off BitTorrent traffic. This means that broadband providers like Comcast, Virgin Media and France Telecom profit directly from heavy downloaders.
“Using inferred business relationships between ISPs, we showed that most BitTorrent traffic flows over cost-free paths and that it generates substantial revenue potential for many higher tier ISPs,” the researchers write.
But not all Internet providers make money off BitTorrent; those in the lower tiers where most traffic is flowing through have less local (and free) traffic and often have to pick up the bill.
“Unlike with tier 2, provider traffic is larger than customer traffic for tier 3, indicating that these ISPs on average are paying for rather than profiting from transit charges due to BitTorrent traffic,” state the researchers.