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Summary:

Sandvine, the company behind the devices used by Comcast and others to block BitTorrent, has just introduced a network management tool called FairShare that aims to address Net Neutrality concerns. FairShare is supposed to allow ISPs to manage their networks with a protocol- and application-agnostic approach, […]

Sandvine, the company behind the devices used by Comcast and others to block BitTorrent, has just introduced a network management tool called FairShare that aims to address Net Neutrality concerns. FairShare is supposed to allow ISPs to manage their networks with a protocol- and application-agnostic approach, precisely what Comcast promised to switch to before the end of the year.

Comcast isn’t the only one that could benefit from FairShare. Sandvine itself has been looking for a way to win back customers that were scared off by potential policy implications. The company saw its revenue fall 46 percent in the first quarter of 2008, a downturn that it attributed to customers delaying purchases because of the Net Neutrality debate.

So what will FairShare mean for online video? Well P2P startups will no longer be singled out as the Internet’s bandwidth bogeymen. But your P2P-powered NBC Direct downloads won’t necessarily be any faster with FairShare. In fact, all bandwidth-intensive online video applications are at risk of being throttled.

Sandvine’s press release doesn’t reveal too much about the inner workings of the system. The company did, however, just publish a white paper entitled The Value of Traffic Optimization in a World with Network Neutrality, in which it essentially proposes to use its devices to capture individual usage profiles in real time and slow down the heaviest users during times of network congestion. From the paper:

“Data collected by Sandvine from broadband service providers shows that over a 24-hour period the distribution of heavy users to light users is bimodal, with two percent of the users consuming over 50 percent of the bandwidth.”

Heavy users like these would get punished by FairShare with traffic prioritization measures, meaning that their traffic would be handled with a lower priority than the packets from other users. ISPs might also impose temporary speed limits on their transmissions, a practice commonly known as “traffic shaping.” According to Sandvine:

“By encouraging heavy users to shift their usage to off-peak times, bandwidth can then be divided fairly among users throughout the day. The overall effect is an improved user experience.”

Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. One troubling aspect about this is that ISPs could use FairShare to slow down bandwidth-intensive online video applications — like progressive HD downloads — and at the same time hit users of those applications with a double-whammy by also slowing down all of their other traffic. So to one user, it will seem like the whole network is kind of slow, while his neighbor will still be able to browse Lolcatz at full speed. Good for him, and good for the ISP as well, since it won’t have to upgrade its network. As Sandvine notes in its release,

“A FairShare policy that combines a short-duration quota and network congestion information maintains network neutrality while at the same time helping operators manage their capital expenditure costs.”

So how do you accommodate heavy users (a.k.a. early adopters of online video) in a network policed with FairShare? By abandoning Net Neutrality, oddly enough. Sandvine proposes that ISPs shouldn’t impose strict monthly bandwidth caps, but “collaborate with their subscribers to allow users to choose the applications that are important to them.” Translation: ISP offerings could soon look like cell-phone contracts. Get unlimited web and email for a base price of $30 per month, and pay $20 more if you want HD streaming on nights and weekends.

Enforcing these policies will be done completely application-neutral, thanks to FairShare. The result could still be a nightmare for the online video sector.

  1. Unattended P2P applications should automatically respond-in-kind to throttling to move traffic to off peak. In theory if you are doing an un-attended download, do you REALLY care about when the bits come through ? Or is the goal to just get the podcasts or videos once per day, etc. Just as important — if you YOURSELF are trying to surf and do email while also pod-suming isn’t it true that you would PREFER to prioritize your own interactive traffic above your own un-attended ? This is really not rocket science. It just make common sense. Although I love the idea of unlimited data on my cell phone, it really doesn’t make sense to stream radio 24×7 when I can get what I want less bandwidth intrusively with pod-suming (pod-consumption).

    First out the gate should be control of our own computers. VERY few apps allow users to control their own consumption. I for one have like 20+ devices on the home network. Rest assured when I am trying to get work done I’ve walked across the house and yanked the cable on the Apple TV because it was consuming my bandwidth. That has stopped now since it won’t since it doesn’t even work anymore … but it was very annoying. My router and switches do not allow me to micro-manage my own consumption. It’s like trying to take a shower when my four kids are all in their baths… not enough supply … BAD IDEA. Solution — move times of day or turn off their spigot!

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  2. Finally, a sensible policy. Bulk traffic really does need to be throttled back during peak usage. By managing the amount of traffic going through the ISP’s pipe at one time, Comcast can delay investing in additional capacity until there are more customers to justify the upgrade.

    VERY few apps allow users to control their own consumption

    LinkSys WRT54GL (Linux version) has third-party firmware like DD-WRT or Tomato which give you QoS. You can control consumption by throttling bandwidth.

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  3. —QUOTE—
    The company did, however, just publish a white paper entitled The Value of Traffic Optimization in a World with Network Neutrality, in which it essentially proposes to use its devices to capture individual usage profiles in real time and slow down the heaviest users during times of network congestion. From the paper:

    “Data collected by Sandvine from broadband service providers shows that over a 24-hour period the distribution of heavy users to light users is bimodal, with two percent of the users consuming over 50 percent of the bandwidth.” 
    

    Heavy users like these would get punished by FairShare with traffic prioritization measures, meaning that their traffic would be handled with a lower priority than the packets from other users.
    —ENDQUOTE—
    I have huge problems with this.

    Deciding what users to throttle based on volume EARLIER IN THE DAY is no better than throttling a protocol. Both are, once again, arbitrary.

    I remind readers that these are users who are simply using bandwidth according to the plans that they purchased. Throttling is a technology to “take back” or prevent usage of that bandwidth.

    The Internet was designed to allow multiple users and applications to share a pool of available bandwidth. If I am acting within my legal rights, and if I am using only the bandwidth available to me by my tier of service, then a network operator has no reason or right to curtail that use.

    The above quote makes it clear that this has nothing to do with congestion, it has to do with selling users a bandwidth expectation and then preventing them from accessing it should they dare use it. Obviously, it is non-standard and it is, once again, malicious interference with authorized communications by a network operator.

    Unacceptable. Totally unacceptable!

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  4. This throttling methodology has the ability to balkanize all the ISPs. By shifting P2P loads to faster non-FairShare enabled nets, slower fairshared nodes will not be pulling their Fair Share. To compound this, UL/DL ratios on most trackers it will make it almost impossible for FairShared peers to make any contribution to the cloud.

    A setting of a Prime Time for bandwidth does not take into consideration the time zones of all other peers around the world. Even though peer from other nets do not pay Comcast directly, by accessing a peer on their net, they use their bandwidth. Bandwidth is both a push and a pull.

    Smoothing their bandwidth demand opens them up to more costly trans-gateway traffic from around the world. Instead of coming up with a solution to the bandwidth issue by developing or encouraging schemes to prioritize cheaper intranetwork traffic, it seems like they are trying to do a bit of a money grab on the video revolution under the guise of customer service.

    TKO

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  5. At a time when the carriers have installed either fiber optic or high-capacity cable to or near the final customers, the very need to cap a certain kind of traffic is likely more of a way to milk more money out of the customers.

    Even if the internet gets throttled, the end-user will not see a speed increase, in regards to his regular browsing activities because the carriers will sell more “high-end connectivity services” if they continue to slow down the traffic for the more affordable packages.

    In the age of fiber optics, throttling traffic makes no sense at all because the pipeline, at least over the bigger trunks, could accomodate a million YouTubes without so much as a mere hickup.

    Throttling is the new way to force the internet users to pay more to access the grid.

    It’s a very sad state of affairs and the current carriers oligopoly has everything to do with it. Add 10 new (serious) competitors to the current carrier mosaic and they’ll be singing a -very- different tune — at the very least, they won’t be so arrogant, anymore!

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  6. [...] stesso tempo anche Sandvine ,come rivela questo articolo di NewsTeeVee che conosciamo perfettamente in quanto ha fornito a Comcast la metodologia per filtrare il traffico [...]

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  7. [...] 2008: Sandvine publishes details about new ways of network management championed by [...]

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