Web Hogs!

I have always felt that our customers buy connections from us to use them. Abuse them. Hog up big chunks of the web. Fill up those tubes! And to just generally consume what they are buying: a big fast broadband pipe, to use however they see fit.

As more and more broadband providers have instituted caps, I have continued to say that caps are really not necessary and that even if congestion was to be a problem, consumption caps are the wrong way to address the potential problem: congestion during peak time on the network slowing everyone down.

The capping of Internet consumption is a hot topic. In the Bay Area, SF Gate’s James Temple has written about caps, and the folks at Stop The Cap have been fighting Canada’s proposed usage based billing (UBB) scheme as well as the capping by U.S. providers.

My opinion is that caps make little technical sense, and I believe that the fundamental reason for capping is to prevent disruption of the television entertainment business model that feeds the TV screens in most households.

It’s common sense — if you are selling a service bundle to a household that includes a subscription TV service, it would make business sense if there wasn’t enough broadband capacity to replace it.

As of 2008, the Nielsen Co. says that the average American household consumes just over 8 hours per day of TV. To replace this with some sort of innovative and interesting new Over-The-Top offering, it would consume roughly 480 Gigabytes per month (based upon Netflix consumption at their current top “HD” rate.)

Keep in mind that this is the normative household TV consumption, so roughly half of homes view more than this! Add in day-to-day Internet use and clearly the 150GB to 250GB caps which are typical today are an effective blockade.

Because I’ve got a contrary viewpoint on caps, when Diffraction Analysis contacted us to ask if we would participate in a study of real-world usage we decided we should put our money where our mouth was. We ponied up with anonymous, summary consumption statistics for their use in this study.

The results they’ve come out with are quite interesting. Their report, “Do data caps punish the wrong users? A bandwidth usage reality check” is available for purchase on the Diffraction site, but the study author has also provided a summary on his Fiberevolution blog.

In it, he states that:

Data caps, therefore, are a very crude and unfair tool when it comes to targeting potentially disruptive users. The correlation between real-time bandwidth usage and data downloaded over time is weak and the net cast by data caps captures users that cannot possibly be responsible for congestion. Furthermore, many users who are “as guilty” as the ones who are over cap (again, if there is such a thing as a disruptive user) are not captured by that same net.

Their conclusion is reassuring, as it affirms our gut feelings about user behaviors and consumption: while heavy consumers may tend to be a contributor to peak load, their total consumption is a poor proxy for their impact during the potentially critical peak-load periods. We believe that if any bandwidth management were required, slowing the largest consumer down to the level of the next-largest and so on, in the specific moment during congestion conditions would be a more reasonable policy.

That said, note that bandwidth management is not used in our network. We upgrade links before congestion occurs.

What are your feelings about provider caps? Let us know in the comments!

Related reading:
Do data caps punish the wrong users? – Fiberevolution
“Bandwidth hogs” join unicorns in realm of mythical creatures – Ars Technica
The ‘Bandwidth Hog’ is a Myth – DSLReports

  • Having been in your shoes as a small ISP, and knowing exactly the same things you know about customer behavior, what I don’t understand is this:

    Why can’t the bigger ISPs actually use some intelligence about this? It’s easy to monitor what your customers are doing, and as you say, proactively upgrade links to prevent congestion. Why the larger companies seem incapable of doing this is quite beyond me. Personally I just think they don’t want to spend any money, because that doesn’t “enhance shareholder value”.

  • No cap is one of the main reasons I chose sonic.net over everyone else. I think bandwidth caps at the commonly chosen 250GB level are penalizing to users like myself. I currently have over 700GB backed up “in the cloud”. If I ever needed to restore it the download caps would get me canceled on most services.

  • Anonymous

    My article has an overview of why I believe they cap: to protect the TV segment.

  • Right. Enhancing shareholder value by protecting old business models at the expense of new ones.

  • Nobody

    I’m surprised! 85% link usage on an IP-Link in an 15-Minute Aggregate for my knowledge is heavily congested!!! How can you state, there is no congestion?

  • We use five minute averages. 85% peak load on a five minute average can be congested or not congested – it’s the momentary usage that matters. In a circuit of this size (the sample circuit was an OC12, 600Mbps), with customers at 1.5Mbps to 6Mbps maximum, 85% five minute peak is not congested. The real-world indications of congestion are an increase in latency, then packet loss, and these may occur during times when a moderate sized statistical sample (such as five minutes) may show an acceptable average.

    The speed of each customer circuit is also a significant factor – if the ratio of the customer’s circuit to the size of the aggregation circuit is close, it’s possible for the behavior or one or a moderate number of customers push the link to its limit. This is why a collection of 6Mbps customers on an old 40Mbps ATM T3 would have often exhibit problems, but thousands of 1.5 to 6Mbps customers on a 600Mbps circuit is a better fit. The statistical aggregation ratio only works with a very large customer count and a significantly large circuit as compared to the connected customers.

    This is, BTW, the reason the Fusion CO backhaul network starts out at 1Gbps, (redundant, 2x1Gb) before we load a single customer. With customers connected at up to 40Mbps each, we do not want to have even a small town CO configured with less than gigabit Ethernet from the start.

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  • BayArea

    Well, this answered my question. I landed here to find out if Sonic.net has caps. I am using less than 150Gb/month but I am getting tired of AT&T’s warning emails, so tomorrow I am switching to Sonic.

  • How about expanding into Florida.  I bet 90 % of ATT DSL accounts will sign on to Sonic.net.

  • Mike Jurney

     In many places the only relatively-high-speed data access options are divisions of television delivery companies (Time Warner, for example).  By stunting the Internet-delivered programming market they not only protect their legacy programming advertiser relationships, they also protect their own on-demand movie and program re-broadcast services.

  • Anonymous

    DUH – This has been the case for a while. They want the video tied to the box and they do not want you to be able to watch what you want when you want.

    If they allowed it then they could not make you watch mediocre programing anymore while you wait for a good show to come on.

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  • I found that sonic.net is good for IT services provider company & in future want to use sonic.ne services.

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  • For me, I chose Sonic.Net after seeing a friend based here in SF, be in Arizona, yet stream his home computer contents to an online TV channel. I said, “You do know Comcast blocks you after 250GB right?” He said, “I dont have Comcast!” “Well then AT&T does it at 150GB!” “I dont have AT&T either!” and he told me about Sonic. I convinced my roommate to give DSL another shot, and while we are sacrificing some speed over our old cable internet, we found that dropping Comcast is going to be better. Instead of spending $95 for TV and another $60 for internet (without a home phone, that we dont need on Comcast or Sonic), we will be spending $55 for UNLIMITED internet (note UNLIMITED in caps means NO CAPS!) AND Home phone (we dont need, but nice to have anyway), and $20 for Netflix and $10 for Hulu. So for $85 we have a triple play going on, saving us (if you included Comcast phone) $100 over Comcast. PER MONTH! Thats $50 EACH! Do  you know what that will pay in a month? My own share of PG&E, MOST of my wireless phone bill, buy groceries for a week, or get me to and from work for a week as well. While that to some people isnt a big deal, saving money, having unlimited internet to stream our TV rather than pipe it in via a monopolistic cable company that over charges and tacks on something called “Franchise Fee” (as if its MY problem you went into business as a franchise!)! Just saying, for my money, Sonic is delivering exactly what I pay for, and hopefully Gig will get here soon!

  • I support caps.  High caps, but caps.  Anything unmeasured can and will be abused, it’s human nature.  As a non-abuser I don’t to pay for that.

  • Anonymous

    Bandwidth is too cheap to meter. It’s usage is constrained by the amount of storage and number of screens that people have in the home, and even for outliers, the costs are fine. Fundamentally, IP consumption by our customers totals up to a cost that is only 2% of our revenue.

    Go ahead, use more! Bandwidth is cheap today, and trending toward free.

  • <>

    In the cable TV industry, the franchise fee is a tax imposed by the cities where the cable company operates. The city is allowing the cable company to run its business in the city. Usually this is calculated as a % of revenues.

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