The Curious Case of Caps and Congestion

March 23, 2011

If you are interested in data caps and network congestion challenges, GigaOm graciously allowed me to share my thoughts today in a guest post (full version available here).

In a nutshell, I believe data caps will do nothing to solve the congestion challenges. ISP bottlenecks almost exclusively occur at peak times. Even if your monthly usage is capped, will you stop using the Internet during the Internet’s rush hour? Of course not. You’re more likely to save your GBs for peak times.

I also proposed two ideas that together would significantly help ISPs. The first is voluntary traffic management on behalf of applications and software service providers. For example, thanks to BitTorrent’s µTP protocol released last year, our traffic doesn’t contribute to network congestion. Why? Because µTP can sense bottlenecks and self-regulates to avoid contributing to congestion. uTP yields to priority traffic, much like traffic on the freeway yields to emergency vehicles. 

The second idea is congestion-based pricing. If we are truly trying to solve is peak hour congestion (and by relation preserving ISP fixed-cost network economics), then congestion-based pricing is one idea with enough merit to pursue, though it implies widespread changes. The IETF’s CONEX working group is looking at ways to expose congestion to the endpoints and intermediate service providers, which would be an necessary building block for congestion based pricing on the Internet. Like London toll roads that kick in during rush hour, peak hour pricing would give consumers and application providers incentive to use heavy-bandwidth services during off-peak hours. For example, rather than running your data back-up continuously, you might schedule it for late night.

A big thanks to GigaOm for giving me a platform to share my thoughts, and I welcome your feedback and ideas as well. BitTorrent’s in a unique position to understand global traffic patterns, and our goal is to be a part of the solution for a healthy Internet.

Eric Klinker, CEO

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