Responsibly against Internet Throttling *and* UBB
Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on February 3, 2011
or, Why David Eaves Is Wrong about Usage Based Billing
David Eaves is a smart guy. The problem is that there is so much misinformation about Usage Based Billing, like so many others, he is terribly misinformed:
“One thing that has bothered me about these complaints is that they have generally come from people who also seem to oppose internet service providers throttling internet access. It’s unclear to me that you can have it both ways – you can’t (responsibly) be against both internet throttling and usage-based billing. “
—David Eaves, Why the CRTC was right on Usage-Based Billing
It’s understandable, really. UBB is difficult to understand, describe and explain. Because it’s so complex.
For instance, try explaining that Bell is a backbone carrier as well as an Internet service provider competing with their own wholesale customers.
It’s kind of like a song i heard when I was a kid, something about being your own grandpa….
First, the jargon is so new, much of it isn’t even in Wikipedia.
That’s one of the things I struggled to address when I started this blog. But it gets worse. Bell doesn’t use the words of jargon the same way other ISPs in other parts of the world do.
Let’s look at “throttling”:
- This is How Throttling works,
- Throttling PROVES that the Internet is NOT congested, and
- C: Deep Packet Inspection.
The short version is that Bell’s version of “throttling” consists of deliberately impeding traffic, which actually artificially inflates bandwidth consumption. Worse, they use DPI to discriminate against specific traffic. When you add UBB to throttling, the result looks very much like fraud. Which is why the American ISP Comcast was slapped down by the FCC when they did it.
Understanding Bell Throttling, excerpt from C: Deep Packet Inspection
Policing traffic above a certain rate simply consists of allowing dropped packets when there is Internet congestion. Using the infamously overused highway analogy, if there were two westbound lanes of traffic and the lead car in the fast lane has a blow-out and slams on the brakes and skids to a stop, the other cars in the fast lane can either rear-end this car or overflow the highway into the center ditch. Or both. The traffic in the slow lane just keeps moving along and none of it is lost.
So if the Internet truly is congested, some of it will go through fine but whatever doesn’t fit will simply be discarded, and become “lost” or “dropped” packets. The traffic that is not dropped moves as smoothly as ever. Without an acknowledgment of receipt, the dropped packets will eventually be resent when the recipient system places a “resend” request after the congestion has cleared up. Because this method of clearing up Internet congestion does not target any particular type of Internet traffic, it does not require the invasive deep packet inspection process.
Traffic Shaping or Throttling
The practice known as “Traffic Shaping” can also be called “throttling”.
Traffic Shaping is applied to Internet congestion by forcing all the traffic to slow down and conform to a certain speed by pushing it through a bottleneck.
In this process, no traffic is lost, it is simply delayed in a huge queue. Your computer’s packets will take longer to cross the Internet, and generally your computer will slow down its demands until the congestion is cleared. Revisiting the highway analogy, if we funnel four lanes of traffic into one, everyone gets to where they’re going, but the trip might take an hour instead of fifteen minutes.
This process called interchangeably Traffic Shaping or Throttling does not require the invasive Deep Packet Inspection process either, again for the same reason: it is not targeting a specific type of traffic, it slows down everything.
“ ‘Policing’ drops packets when a bandwidth threshold is exceeded, while ‘traffic shaping’ queues packets during high bandwidth use and releases them when bandwidth use reduces. No data is lost with ‘traffic shaping’. (Cisco, Comparing Traffic Policing and Traffic Shaping for Bandwidth Limiting)
‘Policing’ and ‘traffic shaping’ are protocol agnostic; all traffic is equally affected. Neither ‘policing’ nor ‘traffic shaping’ requires DPI.
Bell Canada’s throttling does neither.”
–Bob Jonkman, Sobac Microcomputer Services
What Bell Canada calls “throttling” is not the same thing as what the rest of the world calls “throttling”.
What Bell Canada means by “Throttling”
“ Bell uses Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to identify peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic (CRTC filing), and most likely the Bittorrent protocol in particular. Bell Canada uses Sandvine’s equipment for DPI and throttling. With throttling, a forged reset is sent to the client for a percentage of transmitted packets. The client needs to re-establish the connection, as well as re-transmit the lost data (Robb Topolski first discovered the use of forged reset packets). Since Bittorrent transmits as much data as it receives, the re-transmission costs are significant.
In the US, this practice was ruled illegal by the FCC .
‘Policing’ and ‘Traffic Shaping’ sound like industry weasel words to make it sound like they’re doing a good thing. ‘Policing’, ‘traffic shaping’ and ‘throttling’ all degrade service for the party being policed, shaped or throttled. Of the three, Bell has chosen to use ‘throttling’, the technique that’s most disruptive to its customers.”
–Bob Jonkman, Sobac Microcomputer Services
In 2008 Bell Canada acquired Sandvine‘s Deep Packet Inspection equipment with the intention of charging their own customers for their bandwidth usage. Using the DPI process to peel back the packet layers, Bell Canada is able to acquire a lot of information from the packets that make up our Internet traffic. Unfortunately, DPI also shows the Carrier what the content is, unless the content is encrypted. If the content IS encrypted, DPI lets Bell Canada know it’s encrypted. Essentially Deep Packet Inspection gives Bell Canada the capability of reading any unencrypted packets we send across the Internet.
The original application of DPI was to allow Bell Canada to keep track of their customers’ bandwidth use. This necessarily requires information about both senders and recipients, because you can’t reasonably charge Usage Based Billing without knowing which customers used what amount of bandwidth. Bell Canada did not require permission to do this to their own retail customers, because the CRTC does not set Internet pricing. The CRTC allows the ISPs freedom to charge what they want, since the CRTC believes Canada enjoys competition. The idea here is that customers who are dissatisfied with the price or the service terms they are getting are able to change ISPs.
Interestingly enough, at the same time that Bell was busily “throttling” customers, it seems that Bell Canada had begun a new business enterprise: The Globe and Mail: Bell launches video download store. Although customers using Peer to Peer file sharing protocols for downloading were being throttled, it seems subscribers to Bell Canada’s own download service were not.
The problem began when Bell Canada took things too far. After deploying their Deep Packet Inspection package, it wasn’t long until Bell Canada took it a step further– Bell Canada began to use DPI to “throttle” their wholesale customers’ Internet traffic as well.
Certainly there is congestion. If you were using a 15 year old computer you would find it much slower than the one you’re using now.
The Canadian Internet infrastructure seems to be rather like that. At the beginning, Bell infrastructure was state of the art. It isn’t state of the art any more. This isn’t because of anything Bell has done, it seems to be what Bell has not done. It’s the same infrastructure they had back then.
Is that the fault of consumers? No. We pay some of the highest Internet rates in the world.
Non-discriminatory traffic shaping (slowing everything down, rather than singling out the traffic you don’t like) is the accepted practice in parts of the world where citizen privacy and equality is valued. DPI is illegal in many parts of the world because of its capacity for abuse.
The Internet is NOT full. The technology is not getting more expensive. Far from being a genuinely scarce resource, technology is getting faster and storage capacity is increasing while costs drop. Had Bell upgraded the infrastructure to leading edge five years ago it would have much cost far more more than it would cost today. And it would only be half as good.
I remember when my sister’s 2 gigabyte hard drive was unimaginably large. Today you can get a 2 Terabyte drive for around $100 and a 2 GB flash drive is barely adequate for my kid’s school work.
Canadians have been paying inflated costs all along that more than pay for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, yet if there has been any of the latter I’ve not heard a peep about it. So long as the CRTC allows Bell to charge the customers of their competition UBB there certainly is no incentive for Bell to increase capacity.
People Don’t Understand Bandwidth
What is bandwidth? How much are you using? How can you reduce it?
The first thing to realize is that we are paying for our Internet connection. I pay TekSavvy, my ISP, the agreed rate. My ISP pays the Carrier, Bell, the agreed rate. UBB is an additional cost added to an already profit generating price structure. It over rides contracts.
When TekSavvy buys bandwidth from Bell, they have bandwidth they can redistribute at their discretion.
If you buy a basket of apples from a Farmer, and then give one apple to Tom, three apples to Dick, and 14 apples to Harry, the farmer can’t charge more because Harry took too many apples.
Yet one of the most persistent fallacies floating around is the idea of “bandwidth hogs.”
Actual usage costs range from less than a Canadian penny a gigabyte to possibly as high as three cents/GB.
Yet the big telcos want to charge a range from one to five dollars per gigabyte.
The Independent ISPs have contracted for finite blocks of bandwidth. They pay Bell what they have contacted — prices set by Bell — to pay for these blocks of bandwidth. UBB is a bonus that will be paid to Bell in exchange for providing zero in additional value. Without, say, having to upgrade.
Ultimately, unlike paying for a glass of water, Canadians don’t even know what bandwidth is. The CRTC claims that they support choice. Yet when the Internet first opened up, Canadians chose not to get involved. Originally, the Internet was all Usage Based Billing all the time, charged by the minute. Aside from Technophiles and the rich, Canadians stayed offline. It wasn’t until we could get the Internet at flat rates that Canadians jumped on board with enthusiasm.
Even Bell can’t reliably offer more than a “range” of what some internet activity will actually cost.
There is no meter we can see. Right now I could walk outside and wade through the snow and write down the numbers on my hydro meter. The federal government guarantees the accuracy of the equipment.
Yet there is absolutely no oversight for UBB.
Bell could pull figures out of the air, and consumers have no recourse.
Nor does Bell actually undertake to deliver speeds that they claim to offer.
And the CRTC allows this, instead of looking out for the best interests of consumers.
It’s not over yet.
Regulating Canada into the last century will not help our digital economy survive in this one.
We need to Stop Usage Based Billing before it starts.