Cerf Proposes Alternate Strategy To Comcast

Set speed limits, not weight limits

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The broadband network management question has been at the center of the Network Neutrality debate for sometime, but recent scuffles between Comcast and the Federal Communications Commission have brought the issue more scrutiny. Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, weighed in on that issue today, suggesting a new model for dealing with cable capacity issues.

When Cerf speaks, people generally listen; he did help invent the Internet. Last week, Comcast was symbolically punished by the FCC for blocking access to peer-to-peer networks at all times of day. Comcast, after initially denying such blocking occurred, defended the practice as necessary to prevent traffic jams on their network.

Expecting a regulatory backlash in response to apparent network-specific troubles (DSL suffers no such traffic management issues), cable competitor Time Warner began testing metered pricing instead of unlimited access, a throwback to the 1990’s. Instead of charging per minute, users are charged for excess usage above a certain amount. It is thought (feared) that Comcast, the nation’s second largest Internet provider, would follow suit with a similar model.

Cerf thinks that’s a bad idea. "I do not find [volume caps] to be a very useful practice. Given an arbitrary amount of time, one can transfer arbitrarily large amounts of information." Cerf draws on the occasional lack of user knowledge about the size of what type of data they are transferring. A PDF or a streaming video, for example, may not be clearly labeled, and can run up a subscriber’s bill in much the same way cell phone subscribers run over their available minutes or data plans.

"Rather than a volume cap, I suggest the introduction of transmission rate caps, which would allow users to purchase access to the Internet at a given minimum data rate and be free to transfer data at at least up to that rate in any way they wish."

Doing so, he argues, would allow ISPs to differentiate between "low latency" packets and price accordingly. This approach prevents ISPs from discriminating based on application or protocol or even content (what one might refer to as "packet sniffing"). "Broadband carriers should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the market under the rubric of network management," said Cerf.

In theory, if I understand what Cerf is describing at the Google Public Policy Blog, this wouldn’t be much different from offering consumers different speeds at different prices like ISPs do now, and (cable) consumers could retain unlimited access. If the consumer intends to use p2p networks, the speed at which data is transferred under those conditions would require they pay more. In this way, specific p2p services without special arrangements penned with Comcast wouldn’t be discriminated against, and Comcast’s network could be effectively managed without having to block access to anything specifically.

In the comments, please correct my interpretation of this and offer any counterarguments to this type of network management. 


Cerf Proposes Alternate Strategy To Comcast
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  • http://answers-that-help.com Greg Bulmash

    If a customer consistently used 10 megabits of bandwidth (combined up & down) 24/7, they’d suck down 3.3 terabytes of data in that time.  That’s a lot.

    Back when there was an uproar about Comcast’s hidden usage capping (if you went over a certain monthly level, you could get warned or even cut off), people were estimating the secret cap at around 90 gigs a month.

    All in all, 90 gigabytes is enough to completely max out a 10 megabit line about 45 minutes a day.  But even when you’re watching streaming video, you’re likely getting a 300-500 kilobit stream. so you’re at 3-5% capacity.  A 500 kilobit stream (with overhead) could be watched for 13 hours or so, 7 days a week, and just get under your monthly cap.

    If you’re viewing web pages.  Even if they were really graphics and media heavy, so they were like a megabyte per page, you’d have to view thousands of pages a day, every single day, to exceed that monthly cap.

    You really have to do a lot of P2P sharing, watch multiple streams for hours, or download a LOT of big files to use up just 90 gigs a month.  But if you got a speed that ensured you didn’t go over 90 gigabytes a month, it would be around 278 kilobits. 

    Would I want a plan that gave me 15 megabit speeds, but a 90 gigabyte transfer cap that I probably wouldn’t go over?  Or would I want a plan that limited me to 90 gigabytes a month by slowing me down to 278 kilobit speeds to make sure I couldn’t go over it?

    All in all, I’d prefer a metered plan where I pay for what I use rather than an unlimited plan where I pay for what I might use.

    • http://www.propdata.co.za/ Robert

      Well here in South Africa… pretty much everyone is HARD capped at about 3GB (the largest home package you can get).  I’d be more than happy to have the 90GB that are on offer… I doubt anyone would argue that one.

      As for the paying bit… we end up paying in the region of about R650 for that 3GB cap… at about R8 to $1… are we getting what we are paying for?

      Send me Comcast I’ll take them anyday!!

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