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The Bandwidth Hog Does Not Exist
One blogger offers an invitation for ISPs to prove otherwise
by Karl Bode 04:38PM Friday Dec 04 2009
For years, ISP lobbyists and their hired mouthpieces have pushed the bogus concept of the "Exaflood", or the idea that bandwidth demand is growing so quickly, ISPs can't possibly keep up unless they get X. Usually X in this equation is fewer consumer protections, no price caps, the right to charge incredibly high overage fees, not having to pay taxes -- etc. You get the point. Real science from outside lobbyist land, however, repeatedly shows that bandwidth demands can be met in both the core and the last mile with only reasonable network upgrades.

While network congestion certainly is real, it is also frequently used to justify anti-competitive behavior -- be it Bell Canada's decision to throttle wholesale competitors so they can't offer superior service to consumers, or AT&T and Time Warner Cable's desire to impose high overages on their users despite already making an incredible profit under the flat-rate pricing model. During these arguments, consumers who dare actually use the company's product (as it's advertised to them) are demonized as "bandwidth hogs."

Techdirt directs our attention to two posts over at Fiber Evolution and DadaMotive, exploring how even the concept of a bandwidth hog is somewhat disingenuous. Herman Wagter, who has worked on Amsterdam's FTTH efforts (covered here by us, but also see this interesting interview with him) goes so far as to argue the bandwidth hog doesn't really even exist. Wagter's fundamental argument is that bandwidth hogs aren't real; what's real are chokepoints and network designs that companies are hiding from sight. Adds Fiber Evolution (run by Yankee Group analyst Benoit Felten):
Unfortunately, to the best of our knowledge, the way that telcos identify the Bandwidth Hogs is not by monitoring if they cause unfair traffic congestion for other users. No, they just measure the total data downloaded per user, list the top 5% and call them hogs. For those service providers with data caps, these are usually set around 50 Gbyte and go up to 150 Gbyte a month. This is therefore a good indication of the level of bandwidth at which you start being considered a "hog". But wait: 50 Gbyte a month is… 150 kbps average (0,15 Mbps), 150 Gbyte a month is 450 kbps on average. If you have a 10 Mbps link, that’s only 1,5 % or 4,5 % of its maximum advertised speed!....

The fact is that what most telcos call hogs are simply people who overall and on average download more than others. Blaming them for network congestion is actually an admission that telcos are uncomfortable with the 'all you can eat' broadband schemes that they themselves introduced on the market to get people to subscribe. In other words, the marketing push to get people to subscribe to broadband worked, but now the telcos see a missed opportunity at price discrimination
Of course you can already hear all of the ISP lobbyists, paid think tankers and loyal policy soldiers getting upset, given the concept of the bandwidth hog sits at the foundation of more than a few card castles (especially their efforts at deregulation and desire for high per GB overage fees). As such, Felten offers them an opportunity:
I will specify on this blog a standard dataset that would enable me to do an in-depth data analysis into network usage by individual users. Any telco willing to actually understand what's happening there and to answer the question on the existence of hogs once and for all can extract that data and send it over to me, I will analyse it for free, on my spare time. All I ask is that they let me publish the results of said research (even though their names need not be mentioned if they don't wish it to be). Of course, if I find myself to be wrong and if indeed I manage to identify users that systematically degrade the experience for other users, I will say so publicly. If, as I suspect, there are no such users, I will also say so publicly. The data will back either of these assertions.
One thing lacking in every Exaflood debate or congestion claim has been hard, raw data provided by the ISPs for independent analysis. By and large, the Exaflood, network neutrality and bandwidth hog discussions have been dominated by think tankers who make a living massaging statistics to suit the message, and focus on dressing up lobbying and public relations so it looks like real science. Here then, lies a very interesting opportunity surely an ISP wants to jump at.

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