Every time a moron dies, two more take his place

The most idiotic analysis of net neutrality you’ll ever want to read has been prepared by obscure consultancy Ramp^Rate:

With the permanent barriers that the removal of net neutrality will erect for [gamers], the worst-case scenario includes three waves of change:

* One or more mainstream ISPs will introduce excessive lag that will effectively prohibit their users from participating in online games. The move will not be aimed at restricting usage per se, but rather to extract a fee from the game operator…

* Hardcore users will write strongly worded messages to their ISPs, who will classify them as unreasonable malcontents using more than their share of bandwidth.

For those who think this cannot happen, here�s a recent example: For years before the Web as we know it existed, Usenet was a core part of the Internet landscape. It was a factory for online discussion, exchange of ideas, and, ultimately, one of the better bulletin boards for content of all shapes and forms. However, as the Internet became mainstream, Usenet users were marginalized (typically with �cease and desist� letters citing excessive use of �unlimited� internet packages). Their Usenet services were then unceremoniously dumped by their providers (AOL and Comcast being two of the more notorious).

Where there was a substitute for Usenet through services such as Google or BitTorrent, there is no close substitute for online gaming.

Wow, that’s heavy. Let’s take on the history part first. Usenet is a bandwidth hog for ISPs even if none of their customers use it, because maintaining a Usenet (NNTP) server requires the ISP to process all the new posts on all the Usenet groups as they’re made. As Usenet reached the end of its useful life, it became a vehicle for copyright theft and the distribution of malicious code. So at a certain point, AOL decided not to carry it any more. Comcast still provides Usenet service, so that part of the article is simply false.

As to the paranoid conspiracy claim about ISPs introducing latency in order to extract fees, it’s hardly going to be necessary. Latency and jitter will increase on any packet network as load increases, that’s how the networks are designed. So if more people are downloading video files while their neighbors are seeking The Sword of a Thousand Truths, and the ISP isn’t willy-nilly adding more bandwidth the accommodate them, everybody’s latency and jitter will increase automatically, no conspiracy required.

The best way around this is some sort of usage-sensitive pricing that enables users who place heavy loads on the network of paying their neighbors enough to increase network bandwidth. Make no mistake about it, every network has finite capacity, and heavy users aren’t just taking bandwidth away from the ISP, they’re taking it away from the other people who use the network. So those who need low latency should be able to pay for it, and those who need massive file transfers should also be able to pay for that, and the average, normal, garden-variety web surfer shouldn’t have to subsidize them.

But net neutrality legislation forbids usage-sensitive pricing. The common provision in the five NN bills is a ban on service plans that provide packet prioritization for a fee, and that ban itself is the main threat to gaming. Anyone who understands how we ensure QoS for quirky applications like VoIP, gaming, and yes, real-time video streaming and conferencing, knows that prioritization is the key element.

The best solution to the dilemma that gamers pose to ISPs is to allow the ISPs to charge them more than normal web surfers and in return to provide them with the appropriate QoS. It�s ridiculous to demand a wholesale upgrade to the entire Internet access network to support this one application and to refuse to allow broadband carriers to recoup their investment in what upgrades are actually needed.

This report didn�t advance the debate on NN, it simply reinforced the ignorance and mendacity that�s motivated it so far.

UPDATE: See Adam Thierer at the PFF Blog for a more detailed economic analysis of gaming, and read the comment by reader MnZ:

Napster made the problem of network jitter go through the roof. My roommates called Time Warner to complain several times. The Time Warner representatives said that they were trying to add more capacity, but Napster was filling it up capacity as quickly as Time Warner could add it.

One overly honest representative at Time Warner told them something interesting. While online gamers were some of the first adopters of cable modems, they were relatively a small fraction of total cable modem subscribers. Moreover, online gamers were some of the most difficult subscribers for Time Warner satisfy. Finally, online gamers paid no more than any other subscriber for cable modem service. In other words, Time Warner had no incentive to fix the network jitter that online gamers were experiencing.

That’s the size of it.

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5 Responses to Every time a moron dies, two more take his place

  1. MnZ says:

    One or more mainstream ISPs will introduce excessive lag that will effectively prohibit their users from participating in online games. The move will not be aimed at restricting usage per se, but rather to extract a fee from the game operator.

    Gamers should be falling all over themselves to pay for QoS. Here, I speak from first-hand knowledge.

    Around 1997, I had a couple of roommates that were hardcore gamers (Quake and Quake II). Cable modem service was almost brand new at the time, and we were some of the first people to subscribe. At first, our cable company (Time Warner) did not throttle bandwidth. We initially got download speeds as high as 10 Mbps.*

    My roommates were utterly thrilled. The cable modem was vastly superior to telephone modems for online gaming. However, within a few months, they began to notice more and more temporary increases in lag (i.e., network jitter) as more and more people subscribed to cable modem service. Finally, Time Warner anounced that they were throttling all connections back to 1.5 Mbps.* While my roommates were furious at first, they were pleasantly surprised to discover the throttling virtually eliminated the problem of network jitter.

    Then came Napster…

    Napster made the problem of network jitter go through the roof. My roommates called Time Warner to complain several times. The Time Warner representatives said that they were trying to add more capacity, but Napster was filling it up capacity as quickly as Time Warner could add it.

    One overly honest representative at Time Warner told them something interesting. While online gamers were some of the first adopters of cable modems, they were relatively a small fraction of total cable modem subscribers. Moreover, online gamers were some of the most difficult subscribers for Time Warner satisfy. Finally, online gamers paid no more than any other subscriber for cable modem service. In other words, Time Warner had no incentive to fix the network jitter that online gamers were experiencing.

  2. Mike Nelson says:

    As you say, Comcast still has USENET NNTP service, but it is limited in bandwidth for most users. My monthly limit is 2 Gigabytes. Newsgroup usage is reset on the 25th of each month. When the monthly limit is exceeded, I can no longer read USENET, not even to get message headers.

  3. Richard says:

    I had no idea there was a cap, thanks for pointing that out. Given the nature of packet-switched networks, where we all feed from a common pool of bandwidth, caps aren’t an unreasonable idea, are they?

    I saw a study yesterday that showed the high data rate Internet services in Korea an Japan only deliver about 20% of the raw rate of 100 Mb/s, presumably because traffic on the first level up from the FTTH is intense. It’s always going to be that way, of course.

  4. Mike Nelson says:

    Speaking of morons: Newt Gingrich would like to regulate the internet and “free speech” to protect ‘Merkins from those pesky terrorists. ‘We’re going to lose a city if we don’t get ahead of the curve.’, he bleated in an interview before he attended an awards dinner for (wait for it) Free Speech.

    He also thinks campaign finance laws are a bad thing because it restricts the free speech of corporations and religious organizations. Newt wants it both ways, I guess.

    I don’t know how he would go about regulating the internet for content to prevent terrorists from using it.

  5. David Linus says:

    With all the recent news on what TM is doing, its no wonder why so many are jumping ship. For me, what kept me on were the LEGITIMATE newsgroups access they had to offer. With that gone now, my motivation to stay is non-existent. Luckily, I found another usenet provider, newsdemon.com that lets me access the newsgroups. Now I just have to find a new reputable ISP.
    D. Linus

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