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[ NNSquad ] "Once Upon a Time" - Understanding Bandwidth Caps

                "Once Upon a Time" - Understanding Bandwidth Caps


Greetings.  In response to "Big ISPs to Customers: Bend Over and Close
Your Eyes" ( http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000541.html ) and "Time
Warner on up-sells and competition (in their own words)"
( http://www.nnsquad.org/archives/nnsquad/msg01623.html ), I received a
number of requests for a "simple" explanation of the ISP bandwidth caps

Fair enough.  I'm a big fan of non-technical analogies to explain
technical issues, so let's give this a try.

We start with the given that unlike any other service you access on
the Internet, your ISP is (for the vast majority of people) their
access point to 100% of Internet services from their home or business.
It doesn't matter what video you want to play, which Google searches
you wish to make, nor what porn site you feel like browsing -- you do
it all through your ISP ...

 - - -

Once upon the time there was a beautiful village nestled deep in the

The residents of this isolated hamlet had always been cut off from
easy access to the outside world.  Crude footpaths allowed for very
slow and tedious transit in and out, with only very expensive and
limited helicopter flights available as an alternative.  Not only
that, they had no stores or services of their own, making everyday
living a gigantic hassle.

One day ISPEYD Enterprises arrived in town and offered a fantastic
deal.  They'd build a modern high-speed tunnel from the village to the
big cities on the other side of the mountains.  Residents would only
need to pay a fixed monthly fee for unlimited access to the tunnel.
ISPEYD would also be building stores and setting up other services for
the local residents.

The village folk jump at the offer.  ISPEYD builds the tunnel, and
does open a variety of shopping venues and other services in the

Everybody seems to love the tunnel for a few years, even though ISPEYD
seems to be pretty secretive.  ISPEYD refuses to provide statistics
about how many people are using the tunnel or how it is being used,
claiming that this is "proprietary transportation network
information."  Be that as it may, the tunnel seems to work pretty
well, and since it's really the "only game in town" anyway, virtually
everyone pays the monthly access fee.

As time goes by, residents of the village are quite glad to have the
tunnel, because all manner of exciting new services -- many of them
free! -- are rapidly appearing in the cities, accessible in a
practical manner only via the tunnel itself.

One day there's a surprising insert in the ISPEYD billing envelope
that arrives in residents' mailboxes.

The insert announces not only an increase in rates to use the tunnel
and the implementation of "slow" and "fast" lanes at different price
points, but also describes caps on how many trips you're allowed to
make per month, depending on how much you pay.  ISPEYD says that this
is necessary to protect the tunnel from traffic congestion, but in
their ads around town they begin to promote the added benefits of
subscribing to the higher-priced tunnel access tiers nonetheless.

Many of the villagers become concerned.  They're now accustomed to all
sorts of free or cheap services in the cities, but the relatively
limited services that ISPEYD makes available in the village are much
more expensive.  If it gets too pricey to use the tunnel, the
villagers realize that they'll have no choice but to buy almost
everything from ISPEYD.

The village elders ask ISPEYD to justify their new tiered and capped
pricing system.  The company replies that they're a private firm and
don't have to provide such information.  ISPEYD says that they own the
tunnel and they'll manage it however they see fit.  ISPEYD also
announces that they're thinking about using cameras in the tunnel to
view the contents of cars passing through -- to see what sorts of
items people are buying in the cities, so that ISPEYD can use this
information for marketing purposes.

The tunnel's owners also remind the villagers that they are not
permitted to use the tunnel for serving the needs of people who might
want to enter the village from the city -- this is called the "no
servers" prohibition in the ISPEYD Tunnel Terms of Service (ITTOS) to
which all residents of the village are required to abide.

The villagers suddenly understand their predicament.  ISPEYD is now in
virtually total control of all commerce in and out of the community,
and can on its own volition at any time increase tunnel rates, limit
tunnel access, and otherwise manipulate the situation to their own
commercial benefit, by purposely making it prohibitively expensive for
villagers to routinely patronize non-ISPEYD services.

While ISPEYD continues to insist that they're not trying to stifle
competition and that all of their changes and restrictions are
justified to avoid clogging the tunnel in the future, nobody in the
village has enough information to know if this is really true.  ISPEYD
insists that any attempt to regulate the tunnel would be disastrous,
potentially stopping them from expanding services and perhaps even
preventing them from continuing with existing tunnel maintenance.

The village is trapped.  They no longer love the tunnel -- but they
have to use it.  Meanwhile, public filings and speeches by the ISPEYD
CEO reveal plans to nudge villagers to the higher-priced tunnel tiers
as rapidly as possible, and continue to express concerns about how
cheap and free services outside the many villages that ISPEYD serves
with tunnels are undercutting ISPEYD's own higher-priced service
offerings within those communities.

 - - -

Like any analogy, this one is imperfect.  But I'm sure you get 
the idea.

The moral of the story?  

  "A tempting transport tunnel 'tis a tool that may tilt the terrain
   toward a tethered taste of treachery, unless we take the trouble to
   test the team's total typical truthfulness today and tomorrow."

And we won't necessarily live happily ever after ...

Lauren Weinstein
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR
   - People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Co-Founder, NNSquad
   - Network Neutrality Squad - http://www.nnsquad.org
Founder, GCTIP - Global Coalition 
   for Transparent Internet Performance - http://www.gctip.org
Founder, PRIVACY Forum - http://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Twitter: LW1