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AT&T broadband cap is great – as long as traffic shaping not also planned

While everyone is seeing the immediate effect of AT&T planning fixed broadband caps, as a cause for concern, asking if customers may suddenly stop sub

By PETER WHITE

Published: 17 March, 2011

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While everyone is seeing the immediate effect of AT&T planning fixed broadband caps, as a cause for concern, asking if customers may suddenly stop subscribing to broadband, we applaud the decision. It’s not very different from Cellcos using caps to protect their network.

There are two other ways forward for companies like AT&T, and although this doesn’t mean that neither of them will be used as well, this move indicates that it is proceeding down what we see as an enlightened route.

The two other ways are to block traffic from particular destinations and ask for extra revenue from them to deliver it, the type of nonsensical blackmail ISPs have been threatening against companies like Google for so long, which has thrown up the network neutrality debate, or they can randomly traffic shape, that is look at the nature of the data being delivered, such as video and slow it down enough to make it useless. This is what is going on (often in a clandestine, undeclared manner) in Europe and it is making the internet next to useless.

Both of these approaches are to be avoided. On the one hand trying to charge Google and others more, will lead to legal action, consumer uncertainty and disharmony right across the internet eco-system, with the consumer getting poor service, and could lead to old stalwart organizations taking money from innovators. It would be a little like the electricity generating companies asking for some of Microsoft’s millions because PCs can’t run without electricity, and getting it.

The other traffic shaping approach, makes the internet just look like it is running slow periodically, an outcome which would have prevented new services like Netflix taking off, because the performance just wouldn’t be there.

What is interesting is the way the price and cost of delivery comes down and down for the ISP – The DSL chips that gave 500 Kbps, were replaced by chips offering 2 Mbps, then 20 Mbps and will finally be swapped out for chips running at 100 Mbps – but each generation costs the same, for more access network bandwidth. The same is true for DWDM switches in the heart of the core, doubling in throughput almost every 6 months. Routers are the same. So while backhaul remains a concern, every network is getting faster at both the core and the access network and although it means repeated capex, that capex delivers more for the same or less money.

The ISP in turn wants to, in fact is forced by competitive pressures to achieve this for less. A lower $ rate per Mbps, is the key measure of this today. How much do I pay for 30 Mbps. But in a traffic shaped world, that’s irrelevant, and in a world that does not embrace network neutrality, it is also unpredictable. How often are you attached to a 30 Mbps line and only download a file at 275 Kbps? Although right now that is usually down to the remote online resource not having enough bandwidth attached to it, and it being shared by lots of people.

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