To shorten the connections in recent tests, Xie and colleagues at Yale obtained maps of how Verizon and other operators had built their networks. That allowed them to link nearby computers for peer-to-peer downloads. The shorter hops meant faster downloads and reduced traffic across the Internet.
Pando Networks provided software for the tests. But Levitan says any peer-to-peer company can use the same sort of approach, if it knows the maps to Internet networks.
Still, some advocates of an unencumbered Internet fear the new approach will favor some peer networks over others. Many argue that the broadband providers profit from broadband fees and don't invest enough in added capacity.
"The answer to this problem is not to ration access to the engine of our economic growth," Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat and former presidential candidate, wrote in a recent op-ed piece. "The answer is to obliterate the argument altogether by building additional capacity."
But burgeoning peer networks would quickly consume any new capacity, says Roberts, the Internet pioneer. His latest company, Anagran Inc., is starting to sell network gear that will help Internet providers slow the flow of data to ease congestion. New technology enables Anagran to slow all traffic, rather than forcing Internet providers to target specific uses such as peer networking.
System strains will require a number of technologies to fairly distribute available bandwidth, says Levitan at Pando Networks. "We do not think peer-to-peer alone will solve the problems." He's just basking in being part of the solution, and not the problem.