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The Internet Communications The Almighty Buck

BBC iPlayer Bandwidth Explosion Bodes Ill For ISPs 249

Posted by kdawson
from the economics-of-broke dept.
penfold69 writes "Dave Tomlinson is one of the network gurus at PlusNET PLC, a Tier-2 ISP in the UK. He recently put up a blog post about the ramifications of the BBC iPlayer for the ISP industry in the UK. The post makes some very interesting reading regarding the bandwidth usage triggered by the iPlayer, and raises timely questions about the Net Neutrality debate. The Register also picked up on this story with a good review of who is going to have to pay for all this legal video streaming."
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BBC iPlayer Bandwidth Explosion Bodes Ill For ISPs

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  • Copyright or Tech? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zotz (3951) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:28AM (#22514920) Homepage Journal
    Could we do a better job if we could cache intelligently and do p2p and whatever else made sense in the absence of copyright restraints on the setup?

    all the best,

    drew
  • by teknopurge (199509) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:30AM (#22514958) Homepage
    Most advertise "unlimited bandwidth" or "unlimited transfer". Now that fine-print isn't going to save them.

    Live by the marketing hype, die by the same.

    Regards,
  • I will! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by styryx (952942) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:31AM (#22514968)
    I'll pay... or more to the point, I have paid.

    "unlimited" was part of the title of my service plan; so, unlimited bits at the contract rate or I get to sue!

    There is no neutrality issue; what we are debating is greed(or incompetence coupled with back tracking and lying) in newspeak!
  • Pure moaning (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:31AM (#22514970)
    The post makes some very interesting reading regarding the bandwidth usage triggered by the iPlayer

    It really wasn't that interesting. He mostly just shows you a bunch of network traffic graphs.

    raises timely questions about the Net Neutrality debate.

    His argument basically boils down to "Waaa! Customers are actually using their internet connections! The BBC has lots of money, give some of it to us! Waaa!".

    This particular ISP may be bitching and moaning but frankly that's because they're discovering they can't compete. Virgin Media (Cable) recently announced a UK-wide upgrade for all of it's customers. My currently 4MB connection is going up to 10MB. I don't hear the any bitching from them, and they clearly wouldn't be doing it if bandwidth was really a problem.
  • by Nursie (632944) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:33AM (#22514992)
    The BBC pay their ISP, the consumers pay theirs, everyone in between negotiates traffic prices between themselves. Where exactly is the problem?

    The only issue I can see is that dishonest ISPs want to keep charging their customers the "Unlimted* Fast** internet for the low low price of $X a month!", whilst either denying them the service being advertised by throttling some traffic, or charging the server side twice, once for the real cost and once for "access to consumers".

    It's greed and weaseling out of advertised services, pure and simple.
  • by Svartalf (2997) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:35AM (#22515034) Homepage
    The reality is that that "extra penny a minute" that they "eat" is because they didn't PLAN on you using the bandwidth that
    the ISPs promised you and then seriously overbooked for a major profit. It's not that the claims weren't true on the networking
    solutions being better overall- it's that greedy people didn't implement what they claimed and pocketed the extra, we can't seem
    to get people to move to things like IP Multicast to shed most of that load, and things like the aforementioned.

    I don't go boo-hoo for the ISPs. They knew this was going to eventually happen. They didn't prepare for it. They had the
    chance to do the right thing and they didn't- and still aren't. All in the name of large profits- something that nobody can
    sustain for long, ever. Nobody gets rich quick save by stealing or dumb luck. Once people start remembering that concept
    perhaps sanity will resume...naaahhh...we would never have that, now would we?
  • by apathy maybe (922212) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:36AM (#22515044) Homepage Journal
    This.

    The answer is obvious, and the answer is the same whenever this sort of question comes up.

    It is the same for Bittorrent, it is the same for multi-player games, it is the same for email.

    The only thing about this that is different is that you see a website which potentially has millions of users (how big is the UK again?) all of whom are downloading large amounts. (Actually, seeing as this is the BBC, I guess the UK TV subscribers are going to be paying, along with the UK tax-payer.)
  • by Nursie (632944) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:43AM (#22515130)
    "The only thing about this that is different is that you see a website which potentially has millions of users (how big is the UK again?) all of whom are downloading large amounts."

    60 ish million folks in the UK.

    This sort of thing will only get more common as time goes on a people use the net for ever more and bigger media. Personally I think ISPs need to do more to bite the bullet and price their services honestly, rather than pricing them cheap and then coming up with a million and one reasons you can't have what you thought you'd paid for.
  • Misguided (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:44AM (#22515148)
    This quote from TFA caught my eye:

    There's another elephant in the room. As we noted here, yesterday, the brave new world of Web 2.0 doesn't generate any meaningful additional income. Social networks illustrate how hard it is to get advertising revenue even with a mass audience. It's the dirty secret the technology utopians never like to talk about.
    The reason it bothers me is what it implies: that everything should exist in order to generate a revenue stream. That a social network can't exist just for its own sake. Or even that a site whose ad revenue is enough to cover costs (hosting, etc.) but not turn a gigantic profit, is somehow a failure.

    The idea that everything must be monetized to have value is irksome and tiring. This fallacy permeates the article and is, in my opinion, why the article sometimes misses the mark.

    I think it's also interesting to note that the main point of the article is "ISPs, who are in the business of selling connectivity and bandwidth, are doomed because the demand for connectivity and bandwidth is large and getting larger." Imagine how silly it would be to say "grocery stores, who are in the business of selling food, are doomed because the demand for food is large and getting larger."

    The fact that demand is increasing would be a good sign for most industries. (Perhaps the ISPs view it as a bad thing only because they are so accustomed to over-selling their networks and not having customers actually use what they pay for?) This is not the death knell for ISPs, this is an opportunity for them to compete, expand, and sell more of their product. Until they wake up and understand this, they will keep complaining and deliver shoddy service, I guess. But make no mistake: the consumer thirst for high-bandwidth Internet applications is a good thing.
  • by vonPoonBurGer (680105) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:59AM (#22515336)
    This quote in the Register piece from the Telco 2.0 analyst just kills me:

    The problem with the current ISP model is it is like an all you can eat buffet, where one in 10 customers eats all the food, one in 100 takes his chair home too, and one in 1,000 unscrews all the fixtures and fittings and loads them into a van as well.

    Well let's flip it around. The ISPs are complaining about the minority who consume massively, when there's no rule against massive consumption? What about the majority of users who are paying for the full buffet but then only consuming the bandwidth equivalent of a light snack? The reality here is that the ISPs want to be able to charge a flat rate to people who underconsume, while charging per GB to people who overconsume, and they shouldn't be allowed to have it both ways. If ISPs want to introduce a consumption-based pricing model, then the cost of access for people who use relatively little bandwidth should go down overall, and somehow I don't see that happening. I have little sympathy for a group of companies that are actively trying to get the best of both worlds at their customers' expense.

    I expect we'll see a lot of hybrid models that are really crappy deals for consumers. For example, Bell Sympatico recently introduced bandwidth fees on top of their already uncompetitive monthly prices. Needless to say, the price per GB ($1.50 per) over your plan's cap is also exceptionally high compared to other offerings in the market. If you go to their support site [sympatico.ca], you can see such hilarious questions as "How much Internet is included in my plan?" Remember, it's not a dumptruck, it's a series of tubes! Perhaps it's no coincidence that I'm switching from Bell to an ISP with monthly rates, bandwidth caps and overage fees [teksavvy.com] that are actually reasonable.
  • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:02PM (#22515390) Journal


    What I don't get is where this cost of x pence per Gb comes from. If an ISP has the wires and the routers all running, why does it cost extra to be sending more data? I see that you might ramp up electricity costs slightly in the systems that route this data when it's processing lots of packets, but I have trouble seeing this being the source of the cost.

    Once the infrastructure is in place, then where is the big cost? That's what I'm not getting.

  • by CarpetShark (865376) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:04PM (#22515432)
    I think you'll find that ISPs would moan a lot less if the telcos weren't charging extortionate fees.
  • what are you downloading that is a gig or two PER NIGHT?
    Try renting a movie from iTunes. That's a gig right there. Granted, not everyone watches a rented movie each night, but the equivalent of two hours of television works out to a similar data transfer rate.

    I know a gigabyte of transfer sounds like a lot, but we're living in different times. Delivering media over the Internet means that the infrastructure has to be able to sustain rather large amounts of data delivered to each user on a regular basis. If that means the infrastructure needs to be upgraded, then so be it. Progress cannot stop because ISPs have gotten cold feet about upgrades.

    People, you need to realize that a gigabyte of transfer per day is no longer the exception, it's the rule. The sooner we accept that and move to supporting it, the sooner all our lives will improve.
  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:16PM (#22515596) Journal

    Bingo! You hit the nail on the head.

    Bytes don't cost money. The capacity to transfer them does. That T-1 costs the same amount of money sitting idle as it does running at 100% 24/7.

    To be fair, the ISPs wind up paying higher costs because they have to purchase more capacity when their users adopt higher bandwidth applications -- but this idea that bytes have a direct cost that can be calculated is absurd. A byte of data is not the same thing as a kilowatt hour or liter of gasoline.

    In any case, I don't see how they think they can get away with not investing in network upgrades. Is innovation on the internet going to stop because ISPs would rather rest on their laurels cashing checks instead of investing in infrastructure upgrades for the next killer app?

    The standard response to "increase bandwidth" is "P2P apps consume all available bandwidth, increasing bandwidth won't solve anything", but that response overlooks the fact that you aren't automatically obligated to increase the bandwidth provided to end users. Improve your core network while keeping your customers in the same bandwidth tier they currently have and you'll solve the problem of p2p bogging things down.

    It would be a lot more fair to provide a 3.0mbit connection that actually delivered what it promised then it is to provide a 10.0mbit connection that achieves that speed at the expense of your neighbor.

  • by Xest (935314) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:19PM (#22515652)
    There are essentially two problems plaguing the UK, the first is that we don't have particularly good last-mile infrastructure, specifically everyone is on copper lines and as such we're looking at a limit of around 24mbps with ADSL2 if you're lucky enough to be close to the exchange. For us to achieve faster speeds investment is going to be needed to replace all that copper with fibre, that solves the issue of a possible max speed issue that's going to hit the UK hard a few years down the road as other nations advanced their connection speeds and we hit a brick wall.

    The second issue is the UK's internet backbone, it's simply not up to scratch and doesn't meet todays requirements in terms of bandwidth. Many people laugh when there are articles about how the internet is going to run out of spare bandwidth, but the fact is in the UK it's happening, the whole reason ISPs over the past few years have gone from true unlimited to heavily capped is because bandwidth is having to be rationed, there just isn't enough room on the backbone for everyone's requirements in an unlimited world.

    As such, the UK also needs investment in it's internet backbone and whilst BT is bringing implementing 21CN, whilst I don't know the technical details it seems a mere band-aid fix as some people in the industry have commented that there will still be similar bandwidth caps as today.

    It's not an unsolvable problem, on the contrary the solution is there - Japan with a population double that of the UK quite happily handles 100mbps connections to end users with the requirement for caps and their internet backbone falling over as a result. There are plenty of other examples like Sweden, however some may argue that as Sweden only has around 1/10th the UK's population that they don't have enough end users to clog the pipes up, hence why Japan is a much better example. South Korea is a decent example also at around 5/6ths of the UK's population. The core issue is politics and who's going to give up short term profits temporarily for vastly improved long term profits.

    The UK simply needs investment in it's internet infrastructure, but it needs everyone work together. BT are semi-interested in updating their backbone but quite rightly they think why should they when it's ISPs and content providers that are going to make the money off of it? The fact is that a one off investment (to ensure net neutrality) by the major players is required - BT, ISPs, the Goverment and yes, possibly even the BBC and other major content providers.

    It's all very well ISPs complaining it's costing them a fortune currently, but when they're not willing to give up that money to BT for infrastructure improvements then they can't realistically expect a solution.

    One final point is that it doesn't help the goverment wasting ISP's time and money with their threats about getting rid of file sharers. It's all very well the goverment, ISPs and BT whining about the problems the UK has with internet access, but when they're all doing nothing about the problems, or in the governments case, making the problem worse then they can quite frankly shut up and put up. The only downside to that is, it's us, the end users that suffer.
  • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:19PM (#22515656)
    I'm sure the IETF is pulling their hair out (along with slashdot), but the reason that ISPs don't deliver on their bandwidth promises is because they can get away with it. They make more money oversubscribing their bandwidth and not giving you what you pay for. So that's what they do. That's the price of freedom- capitalism.
  • Re:Misguided (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:20PM (#22515660) Journal
    I thought about modding you, but it seems more appropriate to reply.

    It's not about existing to generate a revenue stream, it's to provide a return on investment for services offered. There's no magic pot of free money to create cool stuff. Things cost money to create and run. Sure, it may only be $0.05/GB for transmission costs, but somebody paid to put in the infrastructure, set up the distribution, plan and code the software, implement the system, and a zillion other things before the first bit came out the other end. The people who paid for that would like a return on their investment, otherwise they'd go invest in something else that would make money. Don't forget that some of these investors are investing your money - they money you expect to grow so that someday you can retire.

    Utilities, unlike grocery stores, would like to limit the amount of product to their current capacity. Installation of new facilities is wildly expensive, and it is hard to make back that capital expenditure. That's why power companies, for example, give rebates and discounts on energy saving appliances, and have time-of-use switches that they'll pay you to activate during peak (aka expensive) load times. The telecoms are worse off, as they have gone down the dangerous road of selling unmetered service, figuring that nobody would really use their (speed x time), or anything close. Switching back to a metered service is not going to be a happy, but added loads on the system is going to drive costs without additional revenue.

    Is it their own damned fault? Yes. Will the consumer pay for it. Eventually.
  • Oh boo hoo! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:21PM (#22515668)
    Maybe they shouldn't have sold the world bandwidth they couldn't deliver, then tried to cover up the fact with (un)Fair Usage policies on those who expected to get the service and speed they paid for!

    I'm sorry, (ISP), but it's your own damn fault you sold too much to too many people. In every other business throughout the world, selling a service or product you KNOW can't deliver is called Fraud. I hope they hang you all out to dry.

    Let the CEO's soak up the cost; they decided on the Snake Oil policy.
  • by Telvin_3d (855514) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:14PM (#22516622)
    Why? Because whether my monthly bill covers the ISP's cost for the month is not my problem. They have entered into a contract with me. I signed a piece of paper that said that in exchange for X amount of dollars, I get a certain connection speed. Sometimes caps may be listed as well. Fair enough as long as it's in print. It's a contract that both parties have agreed to. One party pays, and the other provides a service.

    Now, when the ISP comes back and tells me that they can't actually afford to keep up their end of the deal, why shouldn't I be mad? If they couldn't afford to sell me what they did, they should not have advertised it.

    By advertising false rates and then not complying with their contracts, the ISPs are preventing me from shopping around to find the deal that best suits my needs.
  • by edmicman (830206) on Friday February 22, 2008 @02:16PM (#22517772) Homepage Journal
    FFS, so as iTunes movie downloads and streaming HD video become more popular, the solution is for the home consumer to buy business class lines?!? Rather than the friggin' ISPs to actually adapt to increased usage requirements?!?

    If I ran a taxi service and started being unable to meet the demand of people wanting transport, would I turn them away or limit how many passengers could ride in my car? Or would I consider adding more cars to my fleet to meet demand?
  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @03:17PM (#22518858) Journal

    Search for "IP Transit" and see how the major ISPs charge for it.

    I'm quite familiar with IP transit, seeing as how I used to work for an ISP. We were billed via the 95th percentile, not via bytes transferred.

    You can make the argument that heavy p2p users push up the average resulting in higher bills, but I'm just going to come back with "Don't give your customers bandwidth you can't afford to support".

    Burstable bandwidth and/or lower bandwidth caps a much more fair solution to this problem then selectively interfering with specific protocols because you don't happen to like them.

  • by ps236 (965675) on Friday February 22, 2008 @05:02PM (#22520316)
    If you need more bandwidth, what's wrong with the ISPs expecting you to pay more than someone who uses less?

    If you ran a taxi service and someone wanted 20 people to be taken from A to B, you wouldn't just charge them for 1 car's worth of people, you'd charge then for however many cars it took.

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