‘Data Weights’ threaten Net Neutrality

Posted on November 28, 2013


‘Is obesity contagious?‘ I will leave you to ponder that one.

My Segway being, whatever the reality in the human realm, clearly something has contaminated our attitude to keeping our data trim. Just as airlines are now catering and considering charging for ‘large seats’  so will the Internet’s aspirations of Net Neutrality’ (the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated the same) go the way of the dodo.

The race to put everything online, downloadable and updatable has apparently little regard for how bloated software has become and the ‘Data Waits’ (excuse the play on words) that ensue. Whilst the main high speed backbone and fibre arteries of the internet are currently sustaining this deluge the finer and more regional capillaries are showing signs of strain and in the extremities incapable of servicing such volumes. Just like humans who over indulge our domestic broadband arteries are furring up fast and if we are to avoid the equivalent of a digital aneurism we need to reflect on these indulgencies, and quickly because the ‘Internet of Things’ is going to be getting more demanding with alliance such as the Qualcomm, LG, the Linux Foundation.

I cannot dispute the value of the online delivery and update model for both vendor and end user, access anytime anywhere you can get an Internet feed and the ability to push updates is a highly viable model. Almost…..

Now look at a sample of what vendors are pushing down your internet connections:

  • Apple OS 6GB operating system + App store.
  • Microsoft with its Windows 8 update at a somewhat lightweight in comparison 1.5GB
  • Google YouTube
  • BT, Sky and Virgin demanding a minimum of 1mb of your bandwidth
  • Then the crowd of online gaming and virtual world companies vying for mindshare with games that range from the veritable lightweights at 500mb to the grotesque at 64GB!

The increase in download volumes are pushing the envelope on even the fastest of home broadband connections, as for the slower end of the market it is fostering veritable frustration and resentment as services take themselves out of reach. To use another analogy, you can only get so much water down a pipe of a certain diameter before things just back up and start failing. Or if you like the car analogy, the experience of sitting on the motorway in a 10 mile tailback having just passed the last service station or junction, burning fuel with the sands of time passing inextricably as you get overly familiar staring at the same view (the back of a vehicle not of your choosing) inhaling its waste as you burn your own ever more expensive fuel.

The Broadband divide that exists is extreme. You have your BT Infinity and cable users enjoying at the top end 40+MB of bandwidth whilst at the other end of the scale you have users that can get no more than 2MB on a good day. The commercial vendors are clearly working to the top end of this spectrum and neglecting the rest.

I live 5 miles from a City, in a wonderful part of the South West of the United Kingdom but the maximum bandwidth I can get is 3MB which rarely averages out at more than 2MB. As a result I have to install and pay for x2 broadband connections and use a Small Enterprise grade router to bond these into a single connection to try and make this bearable. It helps, a bit, but completely voids any support from my broadband vendor. They wash their hands of any problems immediately they learn that I am using my own router. A pity they do not recognise the increase need from even home users for more advanced functionality from routers and supply small enterprise options that they will support.

My broadband experience is not unique in the regions of the UK, a usable 3MB on a good day. The reality of which with a couple of PC’s connected makes any media console streaming/gaming/viewing a futile exercise that just compounds the problem. With the new generation of Operating Systems be it Apple Mac OS or Windows 8 their increased dependency on Internet ‘Cloud’ services means the burden on a domestic broadband is greater than ever. My connection quickly becomes saturated and useless for both PC’s and media consoles as they contend for the meagre bandwidth resources.

So the great fanfare and splurge of media around Microsoft new Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation are completely wasted as my current Xbox 360, has largely sat redundant since the increased move to streamed content, so the thought of investing in an even more gluttonous media device is absurd. Attempts to watch on demand films or catch-up TV have been a vain attempt to join the streaming masses, doing little more than spoiling evenings with delayed buffering and unwatchable quality. As for the spontaneity of gaming, this has become a strategically planned event due to the frequency and size of console and game updates dominate the system every time it is booted up or a game is spun up, spoiling any fun.

As Xbox One and Playstation are taking download sizes into a new realm with 60GB + game downloads, I can do little but laugh. OK they say that you only need to download 30% of this to get up and running, well that is still 20GB and on my home network that would take over a week to just get up and running on a game. Furthermore it appears that these consoles will also require a ‘day 1 Update’ before you can even use them. For the Xbox One that day 1 update is apparently around 750MB. Which means that it can never realistically be a Day 1 update but more like a day 2 or even 3 for many. Having enquired it appears these online games and their updates cannot apparently be supplied offline ie: via a USB stick. When challenging someone involved at Microsoft on this theme I was informed that games will be available on DVD so it is not all online, which is a small comfort when you later these games demand instant multi Gigabyte updates and much of the added value you pay for depend on online services, so a short term win for long term pain.

The blinkered approach of vendors is inadvertently engineering in obsolescence day one and alienating audiences as the burden of remediation falls on end users broadband. Yes I would like to have an Xbox One but see no value in such an investment where I cannot use it to its full or even 75% potential.

What is at risk here is the very essence of Net neutrality. Bans such as the The Federal Communications Commission Open Internet Order’ and similar regulations or agreements, banning service providers from preventing access to competitors or certain web sites or content across their networks are likely to be challenged.

With the continued eat all you can attitude of vendors with total disregard for the capital investments made by the telco’s and ISP’s in the network, commercial reality will see Net Neutrality disappearing and the equivalent of ‘Internet Tolls’ appearing as network owners strive to realise value from their investments or simply preserve some capacity for their own use over the freeloaders. The impact will be wide as many of the big names in Social Media and other online services currently freeloading start to get throttled.

There is no single answer, but a blend including but not limited to:

  • More efficient developer coding practices. For example how can Apples ’12 Days of Gifts’  (sadly renamed this year to remove the reference to Christmas!) Mobile app warrant a 65MB download when all it is doing is channelling a link to some freebie!
  • Better quality control and greater end user testing. The current attitude of vendors seems to be to subversively enrol the general public to do their final testing in the first few weeks of launch!
  • Provide end user replicable upgrade media. Either through central retail outlets where users can go with a USB or get the latest patches at the same time as buying the DVD.
  • ‘Data Weight’ bandwidth gluttons like YouTube and other freeloading video services need to start contributing towards the cost of the delivery network they use or get throttled during business hours.

Most importantly though this requires a change of attitude. Internet bandwidth has to be paid for by someone and vendors need to start respecting that or we will all end up losers. As for the long term I believe it is inevitable that data charges and or prioritisation will start being legitimately applied by network owners, if only to preserve the commercial interests made in Cloud/Utility computing that depends on the availability and reliability of bandwidth. Just like our physical highways and roads, as they evolved they reached the point where cost had to be recovered from users to maintain their usability and rules to prioritise certain grades of traffic are now not uncommon.