Peer-to-peer file sharing may be more of a drain on ISPs than previously realised if figures released yesterday are accurate.

Ars Technica quotes a report issued by broadband equipment vendor Sandvine which states that traffic from peer-to-peer file sharing networks accounts for 35.6 percent of all data downloaded over the Internet in the United States. This contrasts with regular web surfing and streaming media usage, which suck up 31.6 percent and 17.9 percent respectively. Unsurprisingly, the figures are even more damning for upstream data transfer where P2P accounts for a massive 75 percent, meaning that BitTorrent and associated protocols account for nearly half of all traffic whizzing across the 'net at any given time.

Before taking any of the figures quoted too seriously, however, it's important to consider the source: Sandvine sells equipment designed to detect, throttle, and even block peer-to-peer traffic. In other words, it's good PR if ISPs can cut their bandwidth bills in half.

The figures are missing one important distinction, too: they don't split the P2P usage into 'legitimate' and 'illegitimate'. Data transferred whilst downloading the latest Hollywood blockbuster is counted alongside the bits shuffled in order to get the latest World of Warcraft patch or Linux distribution. Although it's a good advert for the money an ISP can save using 'traffic management' equipment from Sandvine, the figures don't indicate how many customers are going to be peed off that their legitimate downloads are being filtered.

With more and more companies choosing to leverage the scalability of peer-to-peer protocols like BitTorrent, it's an issue that ISPs are going to have to consider long and hard. Filtering out the pirates while keeping the good guys is likely to be tougher than anyone realises.

Have you ever found your peer-to-peer downloads – all legitimate, I'm sure – filtered or blocked by your ISP? Perhaps you've been warned for blowing past the 'fair use policy' on your allegedly 'unlimited' line? Share your experiences over in the forums.

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