Virgin Media serves the people, not the pirates

The Register broke a story today about the plan by the UK’s cable company, Virgin Media, to dump neutrality and target BitTorrent users

The UK’s second largest ISP, Virgin Media, will next year introduce network monitoring technology to specifically target and restrict BitTorrent traffic, its boss has told The Register.

The move will represent a major policy shift for the cable monopoly and is likely to anger advocates of “net neutrality”, who say all internet traffic should be treated equally. Virgin Media currently temporarily throttles the bandwidth of its heaviest downloaders across all applications at peak times, rather than targeting and “shaping” specific types of traffic.

Virgin Media’s CEO Neil Berkett has previously described net neutrality as “a load of bollocks*,” a sentiment that I can relate to if not specifically endorse.

UPDATE: Wired Blogs reports Virgin is denying the veracity of El Reg’s story, but read the world’s finest tech pub tomorrow for the real story. In the meantime, a quick perusal of Virgin’s traffic policy indicates that they already reserve extensive traffic shaping powers.

Blogger Tom Evslin has jumped on the story with some instant analysis. The problem this story causes for American Liberals is cognitive dissonance: Britain is a virtuous European nation with a National Health Service, a leftwing government, and a commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, yet they permit more traffic shaping than the FCC will allow Comcast; this sort of contradiction causes my friends on the left to drink heavily, or to blog obsessively.

*American translation: BS.

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5 Responses to Virgin Media serves the people, not the pirates

  1. Brett Glass says:

    I wonder why the press keeps singling out BitTorrent. The fact is that iPlayer, which uses the Kontiki P2P software to retrieve BBC programming, is more of a problem for Virgin in the UK. I guess that the press has come to see BitTorrent as synonymous with P2P, even though it’s only one of many pieces of P2P software.

    In any event, Richard, you’re right. It’s very odd (and self-contradictory) that many people who identify themselves as being on the political “left” in the US do not understand that limiting P2P — and preventing bandwidth hogging so that everyone’s traffic gets through — is in fact egalitarian.

    I can only attribute this to two things: herd psychology (one group that leans left has embraced the notion that traffic management is bad, so the others have followed) and corporate influence (corporate opponents of network management, such as BitTorrent and Google, have exerted influence over left-leaning groups). The latter may be especially important. It’s worth noting that the Chairman of EFF, Brad Templeton, is on the Board of Directors of BitTorrent, Inc., and that Google has contributed heavily to DC lobbying groups such as Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, and Free Press.

  2. Andrew Orlowski says:

    Brett, remember that most iPlayer traffic here is the streaming (Flash-style) version not the Kontiki P2P version.

    (The P2P version was conceived in 2003 and the project dragged on for years – an expensive disaster. The Flash version launched on Christmas Day last year and was a huge instant success.)

    The streaming iPlayer uses much less bandwidth. Even this comparitively small amount causes problems for DSL ISPs who don’t have their own infrastructure:
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/20/iplayer_isps_broke/

    …. but it’s not such a big deal for VM (the only cable provider) or DSL ISPs who have invested LLU, ie their own network.

    Broadband customers here are already throttled and capped:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/05/08/vigin_nationwide_throttling/

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/05/29/virgin_media_daytime_restrictions/

    Downloads gigabytes of (c) material every month or bringing down the neighbourhood’s network connection just aren’t seen as human rights issues here.

  3. Wes Felter says:

    It’s about principles. If you want to prevent bandwidth hogging, measure and limit bandwidth. Don’t measure something that usually-but-not-always correlates with hogging.

  4. Principles are great, but equipment to impose quota on BitTorrent seems to be cheaper than equipment to reduce QoS level for over-quota users.

  5. Brett Glass says:

    Andrew, that’s useful information. The difficult thing for me, though, is that while I am an infrastructure-based wireless ISP (I create the last mile rather than renting it), I could still be driven to the wall by a requirement to allow bandwidth hogging. Why? Because my wholesale backbone bandwidth costs, like those of any ISP outside an urban area, are high. I pay $100 per Mbps per month. If my users could saturate their connections 24×7, I would have to increase prices to just above that price (so that I could make a slim profit) or go belly-up. Which is why I must employ traffic management and prohibit P2P on oversold classes of service to remain sustainable. (On non-oversold classes of service, the user is expected to be able to go to 100% duty cycle at the nominal speed of the connection and is paying for that, so on those connections it’s not an issue.)

    Richard, if you’re a small ISP like me and write your own bandwidth management software, all bandwidth limiting tactics cost the same: roughly a weekend’s worth of programming and testing. We could do Virgin-like quotas if we wanted to; the trouble is that that type of quota is very crude and can allow our quality of service to be degraded. After all, before the bandwidth hog hits his quota, he can bring other users on the same wireless access point to a standstill. We need something that works continuously, all month, to keep quality of service good.

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