With Comcast Under Fire, Vuze Enjoys Growth Surge

The P2P service claims to have signed up 17 million subscribers since its launch one year ago and says it's adding 2 million users per month.

Richard Martin, Contributor

January 18, 2008

3 Min Read

While controversy swirls around the struggle between traditional big-pipe entertainment providers to the home -- specifically the cable carriers and namely Comcast, the nation's largest cable TV service -- and providers of online peer-to-peer content services, particularly BitTorrent, the market for online movies and other forms of content continues to grow apace.

That growth is benefiting startups like Vuze, the P2P service launched last year by Azureus, one of the biggest BitTorrent client software providers.

Calling itself "the world's most popular entertainment platform for DVD-quality and HD video content," Vuze claims to have signed up 17 million subscribers since its launch one year ago and says it's adding 2 million users per month. Last month the Palo Alto, Calif., company announced a $20 million funding round led by New Enterprise Associates. NEA managing director Mike Ramsay, the co-founder and former CEO of TiVo, joined the Vuze board of directors.

Vuze has become involved in the effort to force Comcast to stop slowing traffic on its network devoted to big file-sharing programs, particularly BitTorrent -- which is now thought to account for as much as 50% of all Internet traffic in the United States. On Nov. 14 Vuze filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission demanding that the commission set rules governing traffic management by large Internet service providers, and that ISPs be forced to publicly reveal their policies toward traffic filtering and "shaping."

Comcast has been under fire since an October report by The Associated Press demonstrating that the cable company has been blocking or slowing certain high-traffic applications, specifically BitTorrent downloads. A spokeswoman for the cable company said that Comcast does not block any form of traffic on its network -- but it has a right to manage some forms of traffic at certain high-volume times of day for the benefit of all its users.

"It's like a neighborhood or a community," she said. "In some areas when a lot of people are getting home at same time there may be congestion in that area, while in other places peer-to-peer traffic is not managed at all."

Advocates of "net neutrality" say that's a bad analogy and that specifically targeting BitTorrent traffic is discriminatory.

"BitTorrent is designed to be an efficient technology -- it's remarkably effective for downloading big files," says Marvin Ammori, general counsel for media activist organization Free Press. "The whole idea that blocking BitTorrent is 'reasonable network management' is silly."

Vuze began life as Azureus, one of the most popular BitTorrent-based tools for sending video files over peer-to-peer networks. In the early Azureus days, many of those files were pirated, but Vuze CEO Gilles BianRosa has made it clear that Vuze intends to provide access to legitimate, licensed content.

Vuze has signed licensing agreements with many of the big media providers, including cable broadcaster Showtime and PBS -- indicating that content generators will not stand on the sidelines while the large service providers determine how their movies, programs, and music get distributed.

Matters are complicated by the fact that at the International Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced the launch of Fancast, Comcast's own high-speed download service for TV episodes and other content (but not full-length movies) over the Internet.

"In this new age of interactive media where entertainment is available everywhere," said Amy Banse, president of Comcast Interactive Media, "Fancast helps consumers find what they are looking for and manage their entertainment experience across multiple platforms."

For now "multiple platforms" does not appear to include Vuze. But Comcast and other big access providers are fighting a rearguard action against the P2P onslaught.

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