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October 16, 2009

Will Net neutrality end unlimited bandwidth?

Posted: 09:48 AM ET

Net neutrality policies that prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from managing network traffic based on content may end the age of unlimited Web use. Without the ability to intelligently manage their networks, ISPs are increasingly using data caps, often as low as 5 GB per month, to preserve bandwidth.

A year ago the FCC was breathing down Comcast's neck for throttling Internet traffic related to BitTorrent, the file-sharing protocol. With the threat of Net neutrality regulations looming, Comcast and other ISPs, agreed to drop BitTorrent traffic-management programs and generally treat all Web traffic as equal.

However, the Net neutrality concession wasn't free for consumers. AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner all rolled out monthly data caps shortly after the agreement.

Without neutrality, ISPs are allowed to manage network traffic by restricting content. They may do so intelligently, or they could slow streaming video, disrupt P2P services and even block rival Web sites - which would be highly anti-competitive. Though frustrating, the data caps allow ISPs to conserve their limited bandwidth without relying on network-management techniques that violate net neutrality.

Now the FCC has its sights on mobile broadband providers. FCC Chairman Julian Genachowski is a strong supporter of net neutrality and believes it should also apply to mobile providers. But with much less bandwidth available in the wireless spectrum, net neutrality could mean sluggish speeds and far more restrictive data caps.

In a Washington Post interview, Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Professor David Farber argues net neutrality isn't practical: "We've always said the Internet has infinite bandwidth, but the economics of running a network don't allow you to do that."

Net neutrality policies haven't crippled terrestrial Internet in the way Farber fears, but mobile broadband is not as plentiful. Wireless carriers may have trouble complying with neutrality regulation.

If every smartphone customer suddenly began to take advantage of his unlimited data plan with bandwidth hungry applications like VoIP calls or streaming video, and wireless carriers are not allowed to manage this sudden demand for content, the network would suffer.

Gizmodo thinks net neutrality will eventually cause smartphone users, like those with the iPhone, to lose their unlimited broadband:

You will pay for every ounce of data that you use. And if you're "crowding" the network by downloading a bunch of stuff, you're gonna get slowed down because that's the easy "net neutral" way to keep users in check. How much better is that, really?

Proper network management would be ideal, but there is no guarantee ISPs will manage our internet traffic effectively and fairly. So are you willing to give up your unlimited bandwidth for Net neutrality, or do you trust your internet provider?

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Filed under: computers • Internet • iPhone • online video • smartphones

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Jason from California   October 16th, 2009 10:37 am ET

All the ISP's need to do is to stop overselling thier bandwidth. If someone buys a 768kpbs up and 1.5mbps down connection the ISP needs to ensure that they have enough bandwidth for all of thier customers.

If they have enough bandwidth for 1500 customers @ 1.5 stop putting 2500 customers on that connection. So again the only reason this is a problem is that the ISP's are too greedy and/or are not pricing thier service so that they can adequately support the number of customers they have.

We should not have to decide between neutrality and data caps.

John   October 16th, 2009 11:31 am ET

I love how this article goes about saying net neutrality is bad... I'm sorry, net neutrality is what keeps the large amount of people visting this website to keep coming here. No company is telling them where they can go and what they can see. The limiting of information by the removal of net neutrality and incorporation of business could even extend to sites the company "doesn't want to be represented by." This could mean the removal of information people should or want to know about and limiting most's scope on the world. I don't beleive that– even with data limitations– net neutrality should be abolished. Do whatever else is nessecary, I'd rather my information be free and un-biased by big business.

Ricky   October 16th, 2009 11:42 am ET

The problem with this situation is that ISPs need to invest more in their infrastructure to support the growing bandwidth requirements. All of this doomsday talk about running out of bandwidth and the net coming to its knees is baloney. ISP profits are immense and they will do anything to prevent having to actually upgrade their network and spend their wads of cash. As with the healthcare debate, there are tons of lobbyists swarming to spin this in their favor. The reality, however, is that there is no competition to drive down costs and consumers have one or two choices for Internet access. Do the research and look through the garbage they're spewing.

Justin   October 16th, 2009 1:34 pm ET


You are exactly right. The main issue is that ISPs in the US are for-profit commercials organizations. Their main goal, as with any for-profit business, is to maximize profits. They purposely throttle people back and hold off on upgrading because upgrading network infrastructure is very expensive. They might as well just limit the amount of bandwidth their users can use and hold off on upgrading until everyone who uses that ISP gets speeds comparable to dial-up.

The US is rated somewhere around 25th in the world for broadband speed and availability – and we freakin invented the internet (or Al Gore did, one of the two...)! In the US we get a FRACTION of the bandwidth compared to users in other countries where the industry is nationalized – heck they're getting up to 40-50mps speeds; when have you seen your ISP offer anything even remotely close to that? I know it makes me sound like a commie, but maybe nationalizing the broadband industry wouldn't be a bad idea, or at least impose some regulations to mitigate all these restriction the ISPs put on us.

Rural Oregon   October 16th, 2009 1:50 pm ET

Allen stated the issue nearly perfectly. I manage an ISP in a rural part of Oregon. The bandwidth costs us money to get internet out here then the costs have to be passed on to the consumer.

Jason from California your idea just is not feasible. It would be impossible to have a 1 for 1 ratio of bandwidth to customer. For us to do something like that in rural America we would have to charge customers hundereds of dollars a month just to break even on the cost of recieving that said bandwidth in the first place. So to keep costs down for the consumer there are some fine balances that must be maintained. If the ISP purchases to much bandwidth they end up loosing money an eventually failing. If on the other hand the ISP purchases to little bandwidth then they end up with unhappy customers due to slow speeds. Normally maintaining that balance is fairly easy. Now, throw in a handfull of customers that abuse the service by using thier service at its max rate 24 hours a day 7 days a week. That hand full of customers degrade the over all service for everyone. By all rights the ISP should be allowed to curb the usage of a few abusers to improve the overall service for the majority.

I for one believe there should be at least some control allowed over our networks even if there are regulations stating what is and is not acceptable. With no management things will only continue to get worse. If ISP's have no control I do forsee them using bandwidth allocation with limits of usage per month becoming more common. I for one do not desire to see that happen. But, ISP's do have overhead costs and throwing more bandwidth wont solve the problem due to the cost being a major restriction.

Josh   October 16th, 2009 5:09 pm ET

It's just a sad fact that the U.S. isn't leading in internet speed to it's population. What I wouldn't give to have South Korea's internet.

"As of 2009, most apartments and houses are able to subscribe 100 mbps internet connection for less than $50. So far, there are no limits in these services." -Wikipedia

I know South Korea has a smaller population that the U.S. and a smaller geographic area to cover but I'm still envious. I hope our ISP's will get their act together and catch up.

John   October 16th, 2009 9:01 pm ET

I am avg 7.5 Gig an month now and I do not DL movies. I would have a hard time under a 5 gig cap at these prices

Kyle   October 17th, 2009 1:14 am ET

The internet should remain neutral at all costs. This is the reason the internet has become a cultural and business phenomena since it's inception. To give companies the ability to decide what type of traffic deserves attention would destroy this. Cellular networks on the other hand, are more limited, and don't really perform all the downloading and uploading of home PCs anyways, so it might be feasible to get rid of net neutrality in regards to cellular networks. However, technology is increasing rapidly, and what is a foreseeable problem now should not be hastily fixed with legislation when it could be fixed by future innovation.

Jesse   October 17th, 2009 10:06 am ET

The large companies mentioned in this article have been taking advantage of consumers' desire for more bandwidth. When things first started rolling out, they gouged consumers with the guise of "we're building more infrastructure for future use." Now that people are wanting & needing the Internet more & more, their choice is to limit the use.

While not everyone needs or uses the data hungry services, these companies want to punish everyone for the use of the few. It is my belief that this small "heavy user" group is a minor percentage of the bandwidth used on their networks.

Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner just want to line their pockets more, now that their monopolistic controls over their respective markets are being threatened more and more by other service providers such as Verizon's FiOS service and satellite service.

Jeff Martin   October 18th, 2009 7:20 am ET

This article is obviously written by a lobbyist for AT&T and Comcast. We're smarter than that and please spare us the insult.

JeffC   October 19th, 2009 8:36 am ET

This is so transparent. The providers can easily develop more bandwidth. This is about protecting cable tv revenues now that everyone can download movies and tv's to their computer. More cable providers money grubbing.

Franko   October 20th, 2009 1:33 pm ET

Net neutrality is the ultimate prejudice
Even Microsoft Windows has process priority

Near top priority should be VOIP, downloading movies, near the bottom

GreyGeek   October 21st, 2009 12:02 pm ET

Your analogy reminded me of when I was a kid. I saved 25 cents from my paper route and every Saturday afternoon went to the "Pioneer" theater to see two movie features, a serial feature (Flash Gordon or the Green Hornet) Lowell Thomas read the new while the first Pathe video news clips played, and one or two LoonyTunes cartoons. If the second showing didn't fill up I'd often remain and watch everything again. The Pioneer had a split timber facade out side and inside were 10 rows of folding chairs, 15 to a row, with an isle down the middled, facing a large with cloth tacked to the wall. You bought tickets at the door so there was no possibility that you couldn't get a seat.

A theater is not like an ISP because there is no fixed number of features with fixed starting and stopping times so that customers can be herded in and out to a definite schedule. The Internet is open 24/7/365 and the venue is almost a bottomless pit. For the customer the difference is in how they access the Internet, how fast that connection is, and how much it costs.

The theater analogy does not address one salient fact: the "theater" was paid by the "city government"t to enlarge and improve its capacity, it took the money, but failed to build the facility it promised to build. Now it wants to profit even more on the increased customer base by raising rates based on scarcity of resources, a scarcity it artifically created by failing to spend the money it was given to build the Fiber Optice infrastructure and putting it into THEIR POCKETS instead.

The only solution is to DEMAND that the Cable and Telcos take the money out of THEIR OWN POCKETS and deliver on their promise at NO FURTHER EXPENSE to the taxpayer or with any increase in user rates.

To allow them to continue to "cap" the antiquated Copper wire service is to continue to condone their THEFT OF TAXPAYER MONEY. In most civil societies thieves are NOT rewarded for stealing, unless they are in Congress and they use the money to bribe voters with temporary jobs on the "road to nowhere" or the "airport with only one plane a day" so they can get reelected. That voters refuse to learn the lessons of history and continue to fall for this vote buying is testimony to power of the entertainment industry to keep their attention diverted and the worthlessness of our educational institutions.

GreyGeek   October 21st, 2009 7:25 pm ET

@Fannko: " could buy higher priority from your provider"

The number of IPv4 addresses are close to exhaustion, or at least they were before the current financial woes. The IPv6 protocol was designed to allow even MORE people and servers to connect to the Internet by providing a larger IP address range. It is a STANDARD, it is NOT the property of the ISPs that they may use to "sell" access levels or otherwise use to multi-track users so they can continue to charge more and more for the same Copper wire technology that Congress paid them 200 Billion dollars over a decade ago to replace with fiber optic.

The only way Copper wire can give faster access to a few is by restricting the access to others. The Internet was created by taxpayer money and everyone is entitled to equal access to it. It is not the private domain of the rich, while everyone else is restricted to the digital slums.

Chad Boudreau   October 28th, 2009 11:36 am ET

@chuck the 5 gb cap was an example I doubt would ever happen at a major company like comcast (I hope). I mean, the Ratchet and Clank demo over the playstation network was a startling 2.5 GB, and that was worth what, 20 minutes of entertainment?

@grey geek: you are absolutely right. If you look at one of my early comments, I did the math on what we should be paying to access the internet, using Finland as a model. I mean when we talk about japan, the "but they are so much smaller and denser than we are!" rings true, but with finland, the inverse is true: we have twice the internet population density as finland. 13 dollars a month is what we SHOULD be paying, in that model, for our average highest tier home internet service, which would preserve healthy profits for the ISPs...

I don't pay anywhere near 13 dollars a month for internet. You?

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