On Thursday, Benoit Felten over on Fiberevolution and Herman Wagter of Dadamotive issued a joint challenge to last mile providers to offer proof that that bandwidth hogs exist. Well, not so much whether they exist, but more whether or not they cause congestion and thus hurt the internet experiences of everyone else. After all, proof of existence is easy. Take a bell curve of bandwidth usage, choose a point a few standard deviations to the right, and you've defined yourself a hog. But although Felten's title was a bit dodgy, it was quite catchy and thus it did its job well and has gotten a great deal of attention. The article did the remainder of the job, which was to put a finger precisely on a logical fallacy that the press usually allows to pass unchallenged.
For years now we have heard about how bandwidth hogs threaten the internet, and that last mile providers must be able to stop them lest all their customers be harmed. But as Felten points out, there is precious little hard data that any such thing has ever happened. In any network there will be heavy users and light users, it is only the average that really matters mathematically. Average usage of the typical broadband connection is tiny right now. If bandwidth hogs were a threat to ISP networks, we would see it in their cost structure - but all we see right now are profits, cash flow, and dividends. Maybe it will be a threat someday, but of all the real threats Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and their brethren face I would have to say that people using too much bandwidth is way, way, way down on the list.
So why do they talk of bandwidth hogs? Because the ILECs and cable companies already have an image problem simply because consumers historically had no choice and always resented it. Yet these companies also want to make use of their gatekeeper position collect more tolls somehow. This of course will make it worse unless they somehow convince everyone that the toll taker is a friendly protective force, i.e. the one thing standing between our bandwidth and the hogs who would gobble it all up if they could.
And so here we sit in this crazy position. Everyone must have enough broadband to stream HD video or we have failed as a society, but first we have to promise to use it only to check our email 98.3% of the time. But of course we can watch all the pay-per-view we are willing to pay for.
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