AT&T has been awarded a patent for speeding up BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer traffic. We're not sure why the U.S. telecom is suddenly interested in file sharing, other than perhaps fielding complaints for throttling such traffic, but whatever the reason, the patent would create a so-called fast lane for file sharers, provided it's ever implemented.
According to TorrentFreak, unauthorized file sharing is responsible for petabytes of traffic every month. That kind of traffic can lead to congested networks, hence why ISPs sometimes throttle BitTorrent. That's likely the motivation behind AT&T's patent, though it could also be a net neutrality play.
The irony here is that net neutrality calls for all traffic to be treated the same -- Internet fast lanes are a no-no. AT&T could use its new patent to try and win favor among net neutrality advocates, or at least that makes for a nice conspiracy theory.
"P2P networks can be useful for sharing content files containing audio, video, or other data in digital format. It is estimated that P2P file sharing, such as BitTorrent, represents greater than 20 percent of all broadband traffic on the Internet," AT&T states.
AT&T's solution is to prioritize local traffic and cache files from its own servers.
"The local peer server may provide the content to peers within the same subnet more efficiently than can a peer in another subnet," the patent reads. "As such, providing the content on the local peer server can reduce network usage and decrease the time required for the peer to download the content."
The downside to this approach is that AT&T would need to actively monitor traffic and exclude certain "unlicensed" content, lest it be held legally liable for what it's subscribers are sharing. That could quickly become an annoyance if AT&T identifies and blocks a legal download as being illegal.