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Don't Fear The Bandwidth Apocalypse
Cable industry lobbies the FCC with some epic distortions...
by Karl Bode 12:31PM Tuesday Jul 15 2008
A good rule of thumb: when someone claims the Internet is facing bandwidth armageddon, it's usually because they're in the business of designing and selling traffic shaping hardware, trying to justify new and frequently unjustifiable broadband pricing models, or trying to scare politicians into doing what they want. The guys actually working in the network operation centers will generally tell you that congestion can almost always be handled with smart design and capacity upgrades.

Last week the National Cable and Telecom Association (NCTA) was busy trying to lobby the FCC, which has been investigating exactly what sort of network management should be allowed, and how it should be disclosed to consumers. The NCTA argued that the use of deep packet inspection hardware was absolutely necessary on cable networks. Without such technology (the likes of which is being used to throttle Comcast P2P users), the NCTA claims that the Internet would all but collapse. From a series of letters sent to the FCC last Friday:
In particular, (Insight CEO Mike) Willner described how, in the absence of network management, the usage of P2P services by a very small number of a cable system's high-speed Internet customers can cause substantial (and sometimes complete) congestion of the system's upload capacity. As a result, service for the system's high-speed Internet customers using the Internet for other purposes (such as e-mail, web browsing, e-shopping, streaming music and video, etc.) would be degraded.
network upgrades that are intended to enhance the speed and quality of Internet access would, in the absence of network management, only exacerbate this problem.
The problem is, any claim of "complete congestion" is lobbyist hyperbole, again highlighting the chasm between lobbyists and real technicians. Networking and protocol specialist Robb Topolski should know -- he first discovered Comcast's use of Sandvine to throttle upstream capacity in May of 2007. It was his findings in our forums that led to the FCC's investigation of the cable company.

"Complete congestion is a technical fantasy which only exists in the minds of people who do not understand TCP congestion control and how Additive Increase/Multiplicative Decrease (AIMD) works in TCP Congestion avoidance works, he says. "AIMD allows a linear growth of bandwidth utilization until loss occurs, at which time an exponential reduction takes place. This slow-start, fast-fallback ensures congestion cannot cause gridlock."

In other words, total gridlock does not happen because it cannot happen, yet there's no shortage of people suggesting it's inevitable unless party X (ISPs, lobbyists, hardware salesmen) get what they want (less regulation, per-byte billing, a new Audi). In the letter to the FCC, the NCTA goes on to suggest that capacity upgrades wouldn't help -- and in fact would hurt:
As Mr. Willner pointed out, network upgrades that are intended to enhance the speed and quality of Internet access would, in the absence of network management, only exacerbate this problem because P2P users around the world seek to retrieve files from computers on systems with the fastest upload speeds.
Topolski says the NCTA lobbyists are intentionally confusing providing network upgrades with providing faster upload speeds. "In an ISP, such as Insight's network, a network upgrade ought to be performed if the network is routinely experiencing congestion," he notes. "This does not mean that individual cable modems ought to be provisioned with higher speeds, but that the shared pool of uplink bandwidth that they share ought to be increased to reduce the occurrence of congestion."

So the NCTA is both falsely inflating the threat of "complete" congestion, while lying about whether increasing capacity would actually help. Why? The group is protecting the cable industry's right to provide less product for more money using dubious practices (Comcast and Cox's throttling of upstream bandwidth using forged TCP packets), while protecting possible DPI revenue streams like behavioral advertising.

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Topolski tells me it's also important to understand that the NCTA is intentionally conflating network management with deep packet inspection. The two are not synonymous. Topolski recently authored an interesting report on how behavioral advertising and deep packet inspection technology from NebuAD has a number of nasty habits.

"Deep Packet Inspection devices capable of detecting what applications end points are using are both new and intrusive. They do not perform a task of Network management, they are performing tasks of Session and Application management. These are both new and inappropriate roles for Internet Service Providers."

Most techs don't oppose reasonable network management (booting extreme gluttons, some QOS and prioritization) -- but so far ISPs have shown their use of DPI gear to be anything but reasonable, much like their defense of packet forgery and behavioral advertising. "The Internet did not grow to become a raging success without management, and it borders on ridiculous for the industry to claim that the invention of full-scale wire-speed DPI is the Saviour of the Internet," says Topolski.

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Yarmouth Port, MA

2 recommendations

reply to Rick

Re: lol...

Rick, I'm very glad you're trying to understand this. I do want to see Comcast punished for Sandvine, but it's almost a separate issue. While the blocking should be stopped, I'm not as sure that they should be punished for the blocking as much as they should for using Sandvine in secret and lying about it afterward.

I'm worried that you think that my efforts are "frantic," because I've always approached this with an open mind. I am determined not to let it lie, but I'm by no means desperate. If anyone has shown frantic behavior, it's Comcast.

said by Rick:

On one hand, here you are saying that if people are interfering with others..throw the bastards off the network.

On the other hand, for MONTHS now, we've read of your opposition to Comcast trying to do what they can to insure that all we users have a positive experience with our connections and to insure that this vast minority of people aren't taking down the network.

Robb..let's face it. All the bandwidth hogs were the ones maxing out their p2p. That's who was doing it and who was causing the problems. And so, Comcasts efforts went towards regulating that..and only that by implementing sandvine.

Was it a perfect solution? No. Because it could have some carry over impact on some who weren't abusing it and who were using p2p for legal means. But that isn't what the vast majority were and are using it for today.
They're using it to continue to steal and trade others copyrighted works.

And so, Comcasts focus on that, while maybe not perfect and one that had some carryover impact on others..was targeted at the right thing.
So far, line by line, I can agree. But the next paragraph is different.

Comcast and the other isp's didn't have the perfect solution. But it was superior to just terminating users connections. The real harm would come from that..in not allowing people access to the internet.
No, because the "real harm" was that people who used their connections legally and responsibility were thrown overboard -- and we couldn't even get tech support for it, because Sandvine was a secret from them, too.

I've always been for free and unlimited access. And felt that instead of terminating users..isp's should work towards having the tiers available to people who wanted them.
And who were willing to pay for them.
Comcast cannot offer that service because their networks aren't built for everyone. They're built for the 90% of people that want to download far more than they upload. Comcast still hasn't come to grips with that in a healthy way -- in fact, they won't even admit it is true. Instead of trying to shoehorn that 10% into their network, they really need to figure out an alternative.

What your posts the last few months haven't done is to address the needs of people like me and the vast majority of comcast users.
I'm not running for CEO or anything. Comcast's hands are tied by the law, by its assurances in the past, and by the Internet standards.

I can criticize what it does without offering alternatives because Comcast is in this large-scale service business and, because of that, it has to accept something that economists call "freeloaders." These are people who ultimately will not be profitable. And while it is expected that they will try to limit the amount of freeloaders, they cannot break the law, their promises, or Internet Standards to do so.

We want our service to work..and work properly. We want our fast speeds..99% uptime..and to pay a fair price. We don't want to support the 5% who are using 50% of the bandwidth and causing the problems that they have in various areas when they start to utilize their p2p setups 24/7.
This is a perfect example of what I mean. Comcast doesn't have to arrange their services in a way that allows 5% to capture 50% of a bandwidth pool. That they do so is a choice that is completely under their control.

They feel that they have to in order to compete with FIOS and advances in DSL. Fine, but it is no excuse to break the law, their promises, or Internet Standards.

While maybe not perfect..I support(ed) sandvine. And I think that the vast majority of users would also if they understood fully what was involved here.
What do you support about Sandvine? It worked in secret, customer support didn't even know it was there. It used packet forgery and broke legitimate uses like Lotus Notes and legitimate file transfers. It was overzealous in that I couldn't upload 24/7 for months at a time. It didn't even have anything to do at all with Congestion! My own results, confirmed later by Max Planck researchers, and the analysis by the FCC, showed that it was pretty much around 24/7/365 without regard to the level of congestion.

Sometimes laws and rules that are in place are an inconvenience to many people. Even the law abiding ones.
Sometimes I'm really in a hurry..and 30mph seems too slow to me. And sometimes if I wanted to use my connection for p2p for legitimate reasons..sandvine might have impacted me too inadvertently. But even so, I can recognize that sometimes..not everything is perfect. In laws or in life.
And I recognize that the greater purpose was there to really help me..and the majority.
By this regard, Comcast could pretty much replace "Sandvine P2P Policy Element" with "Thug Hitting P2P Users with Mallets" and feel justified because it was only inconveniencing a minority of users. After all, they're trying to "really help me..and the majority."
I would not fault comcast or any isp in this regard for their efforts. I'd maybe say that it could be made better..and to proceed in that regard.

But fault them..Criticize them to no end..and call for them to be fined?

No way Man.

Not for trying to help the average customer enjoy their service.
Yes way, absolutely. Stupid is as stupid does. Even they are moving away from Sandvine, but they've yet to even admit that it was a mistake. And the thing they're moving to will bring another non-Standard set of incompatibilities that I intend to fully examine.

When Comcast agreed to provide Internet access, they agreed to abide by Internet Standards. These standards prevent the incompatibilities caused by stupid implementations such as Sandvine. If they don't like the standards, then it's an open process. By all means, get into the IETF and change them. Either that, or sell off the Internet access side of the business to someone who will abide by the rules.
Robb Topolski -= funchords.com =- Hillsboro, Oregon
HTTP is the new Bandwidth Hog...


Richland, WA

2 recommendations


Bandwidth is scarce... quick someone reboot the huge master Linksys like I saw on TV!