Monday, August 25, 2008

Remember This in the Coming Weeks

Biden's nomination is going to bring tech issues to the forefront, at least online. You're going to hear apologists (of whatever party) argue that net neutrality and other user-friendly measures are unrealistic because of the monstrous amount of P2P going on.

If you hear that, quote this bit from DSL Reports:

Industry analyst Dave Burstein has an interesting (but margin blown) post over at the interesting people listserv discussing the reality of congestion (or lack thereof) on AT&T's network. While industry lobbyists use P2P congestion as a bogeyman to justify all manner of policy, AT&T data suggests P2P is actually declining on AT&T's network. Upstream P2P on cable networks remains a capacity problem, but it's one that may be resolved by a migration to DOCSIS 3.0. Burstein suggests the debate over throttling is all but dead:
Easily a third of AT&T's downstream traffic is now "web audio-video," far more than p2p and the gap is widening rapidly. Hulu and YouTube are taking over, while p2p is fading away on DSL networks. One likely result is that managing traffic by shaping p2p is of limited and declining use, perhaps buying a network 6 months or a year before needing an upgrade. The p2p traffic shaping debate should be almost over, because it simply won't work very much longer.

AT&T writes off that decline in P2P use as a statistical anomaly created by a heavy mix of new customers who don't use P2P. Still, it suggests that P2P isn't quite the network demon it's often painted as. AT&T says that as of June, AT&T traffic was about 1/3 Web (non video/audio streams), 1/3 Web video/audio streams, and 1/5 P2P. Most interestingly, Burstein suggests that capacity upgrades should more than handle growth, without throttling or raising capex, while actually lowering AT&T's per bit cost per user. On upgrades:

AT&T has sensible plans to handle the load without disruption. They are already moving from 10 gig to 40 gig in the core, and planning a transition to 100 gig in a few years. The current projections are they can do these upgrades without raising capex, bringing per bit costs down along a Moore's Law curve and keeping bandwidth costs per user essentially unchanged.

So if the capacity costs of keeping pace with demand are nominal, does that still make AT&T's push into metered billing "inevitable?" One gets the feeling that there's no greater chasm than the one between a lobbyist and network engineer describing the same network.
This makes perfect sense. YouTube-style user generated video is phenomenally popular, and it looks like network-hosted broadband video sites are a hit as well. Anybody who was trolling the P2P sites for this content has a compelling reason to just hit the websites and watch it there, where there's far less of a hassle involved.

This isn't about usage, P2P or otherwise. Broadband metering is about setting a precedent on metered Internet, and (this is the important part) creating a big incentive for non-neutral Internet provision. All they have to do is say "content from these sites won't count towards your cap", and quicker than you can say "Microsoft partnership" you've got the content bias that all the net neutrality people have been complaining about. All they have to do is ratchet down the "free" bandwidth, raise the price on the "overage" bandwidth, and users are stuck.

Don't be fooled. This will happen. It's simply too lucrative not to, and they'll count on a public backlash against politicians "not letting us get our deals on free websites" to do their work for them. Advocates of "net neutrality" will be forced to apologize for a metering system they didn't want and know isn't necessary, all the while getting tagged with the "pirate" label.

And, naturally, while Asia leaps ahead, with Internet too cheap and fast to meter.

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