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Using P2P Legally

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 4/26/02 issue of R&R Often, the press will use the phrase "peer-to-peer" or P2P as a euphemism for file piracy. If you're Blue Falcon Networks, that's a stigma you have to fight.

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"No, no, no...it's an architecture," says Tom Feegel, VP of Strategy for Blue Falcon. "If you think about it past two minutes, you can see how it's not about piracy at all - it's about sharing resources, with the full permission of the content provider and the end user."

Big words. What do they mean? Nothing short of a revolutionary way of using unused bandwidth to deliver streaming audio and video at a reduced cost, and in the case of NMC reporter Radio Free Virgin, a vastly reduced cost.

Here's how Blue Falcon's P2P strategy works: say that you and I are both, just by chance, listening to the same online radio station, and we're in the same IP grouping or region - on the same ISP or getting our bandwidth from the same provider. If I am not using all of my upstream bandwidth (the bandwidth that is there for sending data, not receiving it), I am used as a secondary server for the music I'm listening to, and my computer is used to send it on to you. So, instead of the radio station setting up two distinct streams of data, one to me and one to you, it only sets up one - to me. And maybe, I have enough bandwidth to not only serve up the data to you, but to a couple of dialup modem users, too. In that case, the station gets 4 listeners out of one stream.

This is not being done without my knowledge - in fact, it's being done with my permission, and maybe even to my wallet's benefit. "Imagine your ISP coming to you and saying, 'Hey, you're not in your house during the day, or your office at night - if you leave your machine on and let us use it as a P2P relay point to reduce bandwidth costs, we'll lower your monthly bill' - kind of like the power companies with their summertime conservation programs that save you a few bucks," notes Feegel.

But just how many people are going to be signed on to my favorite Punk Celtic channel at the same time I am? Is there any significant savings to be had here? At Radio Free Virgin, whose audience gobbles up the music they serve at simultaneous listening levels in the tens of thousands, the more popular the channel, the more likely they are to save serious cash. On average, they are looking at saving somewhere in the neighborhood of 68% on their bandwidth. That could significantly tip the scale in favor of not only their continued existence, but a real shot at making a profit.

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