Traffic Shaping

March 29, 2008

While reading through some articles this week I came across an interesting one involving Rogers’High Speed Internet customers, this week they have begun receiving letters notifying them that Rogers will be implementing new bandwidth caps and fees for all internet subscribers.

Basically this a is a form of traffic shaping. Well, what is traffic shaping? Traffic shaping, in simple terms, is a technique used by some internet service providers (ISP’s) to control the flow of information “traffic” through their networks. Rogers along with Sympatico(Bell) has installed bandwidth shaping technology in order to slow down the flood of traffic of its users, especially those that use filesharing programs like Bittorrent. Some analysts say that P2Pcustomers only take up about 10% of all users but they use up about 90% of the bandwidth, which is a considerable amount of bandwidth. This type of practice has been going on for several years now and is used to make the network more efficient, sort of like a traffic cop. These ISP’s  claim that they use this in order to maintain a consistent flow of information through its networks to maintain a high quality service for its customers.

While researching this topic, I read an article by a Globe and Mail journalist, Jack Kapica, see his article here. He has some very interesting thoughts on Rogers attempt to throttle and restrict the bandwidth use of its customers stating that “Rogers strategy is very short-sighted”.

This type of stratgey was attempted in the US by Comcast but US regulators the FCC, is currently investigating Comcasts’ practice of throttling upstream P2P traffic.  Apparently they have a limit to the amount of “unlimited” bandwidth. But they don’t disclose what the limit is. Here’s a video of one of the disgruntled customers with Comcast.

 The investigation is being carried out by an NY Attorney General who also investigated Verizon Wireless and found them guilty of  selling 5GB capped EVDO service as “unlimited.”Although traffic shaping can be used constructively, it can also be used in a more nefarious way. For example, in 2005, one Telephone company in the United States actually stopped all Vonage phone calls over its network by using a very blunt form of traffic shaping called Port blocking.

Debates rage over the ethics of traffic shaping, however, analysts universally agree that port blocking by Internet Service providers should be not be allowed.  When properly implemented, traffic shaping can make a network more efficient by acting as a bit of a traffic cop. The idea is to reserve bandwidth for critical applications such as internet browsers and email while restricting the usage of other more bandwidth intensive applications such a peer to peer file sharing applications.The result is a more equitable use of network resources that maintains the “quality of service” for the majority of users.
 It will be interesting to see if there is any backlash with Rogers new fee structure for their internet subscribers.

Tony

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