Will ISPs spoil the online video party?

Joost logoWith an ever greater amount of video being consumed online, many Internet users are in for a shock. There’s a dirty little secret in the broadband industry: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) don’t have the capacity to deliver the bandwidth that they claim to offer. One way ISPs attempt to conceal this problem is to place a cap of say 1GB per-month per user, something which is common in the UK for many of the lower-cost broadband packages on the market. Considering that a mere three hours viewing of Joost (the new online video service from the founders of Skype — see our review) would all but use up this monthly allowance, it’s clear that lots of Internet users aren’t invited to the party.

But what about those who (like me) pay more for ‘unlimited’ broadband access? There shouldn’t be a problem, right? Wrong.

Unlimited doesn’t always mean unlimited, as many ISPs impose a ‘fair use’ policy which masks a monthly cap. Others employ bandwidth throttling, where under certain circumstances download speeds are reduced significantly. The intent, the ISPs claim, is to stop users who exhibit ‘abnormal’ behavior — industry-speak for accessing so-called “illegal” peer-to-peer file sharing networks — from degrading the service at the expense of others. Even if we take ISPs at their word, and presume they’re not being disingenuous in the reasons given for bandwidth throttling, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between illegal and legitimate use of peer-to-peer technology — particularly when it comes to online video.

4oD logoLast week, in an article titled ‘Channel 4′s 4oD hamstrung by UK ISPs‘, CNet reported on the problems faced by the UK television channel’s new on-demand video service, which, along with Joost (and a number of other services), uses peer-to-peer technology similar to that used by “illegal” file sharing networks.

In an attempt to restrict how much illegal sharing can be done on their network, ISPs use a technique called ‘packet shaping’. Packet shaping examines what you’re downloading — or more specifically, how you’re downloading — and restricts your download speed by up to 500 per cent…

The problem is that packet shaping technology can’t easily tell the difference between different kinds of peer-to-peer traffic.

… if you’re planning on using Channel 4′s 4oD service to download your favorite shows while you travel home from work, make sure you’re not on an ISP that treats you like dirty rotten thieving scum. Video on-demand is the way of the future, so it’s important that legitimate, efficient technology can make it happen.

Virgin Media logoA recent new policy introduced by my ISP, UK cable company Virgin Media (previously NTL/Telewest), goes one step further. Instead of trying to distinguish between different kinds of traffic, throttling is employed during peak times (between 4pm and midnight) for individual users after they’ve consumed a set amount of bandwidth. So for example, customers paying for the top package (approx. $70 per month) will see their download speeds halved — from 10Mb/s to 5Mb/s — after they’ve consumed just 3GB. Which, The Register notes, could theoretically take as little as 20 minutes.

Overall, things are likely to get worse before they get better (while we wait for Telcos or companies like Google to build out the next-generation networks). In the meantime, there’s nothing like the online video revolution to reignite the net neutrality debate.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

74 Responses to “Will ISPs spoil the online video party?”

  1. [...] Source:last100 With an ever greater amount of video being consumed online, many Internet users are in for a shock. There’s a dirty little secret in the broadband industry: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) don’t have the capacity to deliver the bandwidth that they claim to offer. One way ISPs attempt to conceal this problem is to place […] Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  2. [...] there’s nothing like the online video revolution to reignite the net neutrality debate. [via last100] Sphere: Related [...]

  3. Aaron says:

    What do you mean by “illegal peer-to-peer file sharing networks”? The Peer-to-peer networks are NOT illegal. Some of the content being shared obviously is, but that doesn’t excuse calling the whole network illegal. Do you claim that BitTorrents for Linux CDs are illegal?

  4. Steve O'Hear (editor) says:

    @Aaron, I meant to put the word illegal in speech marks as I do later in the article – as in “illegal”. Of course the networks themselves aren’t illegal, just some of the activity that takes place on them. I’ve updated the post.

  5. Sandra Keegan says:

    The difference between advertised speeds and data speeds experienced by actual users is no longer a ‘dirty little secret in the broadband industry’, as numerous comments on various blogs and online commentaries attest to. And the phenomenon is just as prevalent in countries other than the UK, e.g., US, Japan, France, Germany, etc.

  6. Ram says:

    Yep! I agree with you. My ISP had promised a connection (with download speed of 1 Mbps) with 2 GB download.
    But hardly I have seen download speeds of 1 Mbps.. I usually get only 100kbps during peak hours and a little more during the other times.

    Is there some thing we can do to solve this problem?

  7. Ben says:

    Broadband worldwide is incredibly oversubscribed and the situation doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon. It may be surprising to know that Broadband isn’t the only service oversubscribed. Wired and mobile telephone networks are both guilty of this practice, which explains where the problem with broadband came from in the first place.

    @ Ram:
    Advertising a speed of 1Mbps would lead the uninitiated to think they can download at 1MB/s, but what they’re really going to get is roughly equivalent to 128KB/s. Unfortunately many ISP’s fail to provide even this speed.

  8. Thomas says:

    One thing you all need to keep in mind is that there is a BIG difference between KBps and Kbps. KBps=KiloBytes per second. Kbps=Kilobits per second. Most users have no clue how to differentiate the two and frequently use them interchangeably. Making matters more confusing is that ISPs typically use K(or M)bps to describe their download speeds and web browser download dialogs (the only speed indicator 95% of Internet users ever see) displays K(or M)Bps. To find the true difference, divide the KBps by 8 (there are 8 bits in a byte) and you will get the Kbps. So, if your ISP advertises 1Mbps and you are seeing 125KBps download speeds for files, you are getting 1Mbps. Knowledge is power people.

  9. phreaki says:

    I’ve seen this all first hand, and the implications are staggering.

    Smaller ISP’s that don’t even understand 95% billing are apt to take steps to curb usage that would even make companies like Rogers shudder. I should know, I’ve seen it. Think you’ve got it bad? I’ve seen whole websites blocked to try to stem the usage of P2P, then severe throttling to curb the usage.

    It doesn’t matter to some that the users are already capped severely to try to curb any usage at all.

    Customer change his port to a non throttled range to get around it? That port is now throttled, even if it affects normal services like HTTP for all users, if it just so happens to arrive in on that range. It’s a witch hunt that always causes the customer to suffer, rather than just backing off, letting them fill up their hard drive and having happy subscribers.

  10. Zach says:

    Next thing you need to look at is the CIR. (Committed Information Rate) This is the amount you are GUARANTEED to have available to you at all times. Most ISPs offer a CIR of 0. So they will give you a connection up to 1Mbps, but they are not required to give you the full space at any given time. Now if you got a connection with a CIR of 1Mbps then the ISP would be required to allow you the full 1Mbps at all times and cannot legally throttle you to less. However, few ISPs offer such a service (unless for business) and very few consumers know to ask.

    Just a bit more education for you.

  11. Phil Scheuster says:

    I pay for verizon FiOS and get 20 Mbps constantly. In the last 6 months I’ve downloaded over 3 Terabytes of illegal video from giganews….Ive never had my bandwidth reduced or shaped.

  12. reech says:

    The point is that the largely ignorant public at large have been sucker-punched once again.

    They’re certainly not going to be happy when they discover that they can’t get their joost/whatever 24/7.

  13. Hauke Kruppa says:

    > The difference between advertised speeds and data speeds experienced
    > by actual users is no longer a ‘dirty little secret in the broadband industry’,
    > as numerous comments on various blogs and online commentaries attest to.
    > And the phenomenon is just as prevalent in countries other than the UK, e.g.,
    > US, Japan, France, Germany, etc.

    Are U kidding me? Given, there were a few providers “shaping” the traffic here in Germany, but those were the cheapest of the cheapest. No traffic shaping if you stick to DSL AND telephone-providers here in Germany. Neither Telekom nor Alice nor Arcor are “shaping” any traffic. In some cases, the bandwidth is limited due to long telephone-lines or to technical limitations due to disturbances when too many people try to use DSL on nearby lines. But this is not a bandwidth problem – the ports are there, it’s just that some cables are not shielded enough.

    I am using a 16Mbit DSL and I never ever had any problems downloading what I want. Yes, there is a “fair use” paragraph in the contract, but it’s not used by the companies mentioned above. It’s bad press if they did. Btw: Of cource I use Video on Demand with 1 or up to 5 Mbit.

    Prices: 16 Mbit down / 800 up (in real life, it’s a bit less) for roundabout 50 Euros, including the base-tariff for your telephone.

    Being a developing nation concerning fast internet access is *no* reason to say that other countries are the same!

    Some people…

  14. Hauke Kruppa says:

    Oh, and by the way: It’s only a BIT less. Check out http://www.speedmeter.de/ranglist and stop generalising. Yes, it may be tough in UK and in some parts of the USA. But this is not caused by some sort of natural law or technical impossibilities. And if it comes to Norway, I guess the people in the UK and Germany both start crying – they outpower us all :)

  15. Devin says:

    theoretically it would take 40 minutes to download 3GB…not 20.

    this is not a 10megabyte connection we are talking about here…its megabit.

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  17. Bryan says:

    One more thing to keep in mind is who you’re connecting to. If I use my 10Mbps connection to download a file from a server running a 56K connection, I’m not going to get 10Mbps. Also, as far as I know cable is shared bandwidth, but fiber is dedicated, meaning that you alone are using your fiber bandwidth instead of sharing it like a cable connection (correct me if I’m wrong). Distance to the nearest routing station can also affect speed…

    At the same time, I have heard a few horror stories of people paying for an “unlimited” connection only to have their service cut (without warning) for going over the limit.

  18. [...] ISPs Spoil Online Video? Filed under: Uncategorized — recar @ 11:40 pm Will ISPs Spoil Online Video? With an ever greater amount of video being consumed online, many Internet users are in for a shock. [...]

  19. [...] ISPs Spoil Online Video? Will ISPs Spoil Online Video? With an ever greater amount of video being consumed online, many Internet users are in for a shock. [...]

  20. chris scott says:

    I worked as a headend technician at a cable company for a few years where I helped manage the broadband / television infrastructure.

    One thing cable companies are doing these days is duplicating analog channels into digital. in conjunction, they’re flooding their market with cheap digital-decoders.

    every analog tv channel takes up ~ 3Mhz (I forget) of bandwidth.

    as the cable companies start to faze-out the analog channels, it should free up an awful lot of bandwidth, I figure.

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  23. Oliver says:

    I think something like that can only happen in a nanny state like the UK. They want to “teach” people about anything they do, including the way they are supposed to use the web. Here in Switzerland you pay for 10Mbit, you get them together with a 10-20 ms ping, do what you want with it.
    When I visited the UK two years ago I heard the term “contention ratios” for the first time in my life. The best ones were 5:1 and the worst 50:1, thought this was a joke. It is all in the bad style of european tradition selling everything technology and internet related like it would be something special, precious, or made of gold (just remember the days when 8mbit adsl would cost you severak 1000 bucks).
    The ISPs attitude has always been the consumer should worship them for having the kindness of offering the unworthy user his crappy service at an outrageous price.

    Also if you look at a country like South Korea where they are replacing the 100mbit connections with 1Gbit lines for every household and flatrates are cheap as bread you will realize that this whole matter is just about politics and certain interests groups who fear losing control about the consumer sheeps (e.g. mobile phone companies will try EVERYTHING to stop VOIP becoming affordable for mobiles in Europe, TV companies are afraid you might turn to some ITV channel from abroad instead of feeding on their crap etc.). But in the end they will lose.

  24. Jason says:

    @Oliver: It’s not a UK “nanny state” issue, it’s more about what happens when your ISP isn’t big enough to get a decent deal for connectivity to the broader Internet.

    Here in Australia, which is no more a nanny state that Switzerland, we have lots of small ISPs, covering areas which the big ISPs don’t care about (because the costs are too high for the number of subscribers). The small ISPs get screwed on their upstream connection, and so the monthly download limits are pathetic.

  25. I think when the whole network gets shut down at a later point in time you could say that peer 2peer network was illegal? I guess you can only classify them as such retroactively though.

  26. [...] Internet Service Providers threaten to stall many online-video apps such as Joost by throttling the download speeds that their users get. He looks at how some ISPs cut back your bandwidth after you’ve [...]

  27. Nathaniel says:

    That is insane! $70 a month for 3GB download cap? Yikes!

    The ISP I’m currently in a contract with is Tele2, a Swedish operator, and I’m getting 10mbit both ways through a fiber link. It’s damn fast, and best of all, NO RESTRICTIONS. They do have rules against having file or web servers running though, which is kind of backwards when so many today have the possibility of serving their blogs from home.

    I’m not sure how much traffic I’m consuming, but I think it’s fair to guesstimate that it’s atleast a gigabyte or two down each day, and maybe as much as 10-20 gb upload (each day). Still, Tele2 has said nothing and I’ve never noticed any kind of throttling or shaping of my network connection. Oh, and what am I paying? A little less than $20 :)

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  29. Pete White says:

    I think its a growing problem in the UK for ISP’s to throttle bandwidth, i’m with BT and they have throttled Bit Torrent bandwidth for months now meaning i’m lucky to get over 10kb/s between 4 and midnight.

    Ofcom have recently made it a lot easier for people to move ISP’s so hopefully as video on demand applications like 4OD become more popular the ISP’s will respond by giving people more bandwidth.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with a ‘nanny state’ most just the fact that BT needs to invest more in our infrastructure.

  30. Geoff says:

    I was so fed up with my ISP and their Fair Use Policy that I successfully sued them for throttling my Internet connection. The how-to gude is at http://demonic-tale.blogspot.com/ if anyone wants to do it.

  31. Carl-Joel Andreen says:

    Net Insight will solve all these problems. See for yourself on their homepage
    Netinsight.se.

    100% QoS in reality, not as aphrase, is one key element.

  32. [...] Last100, le nouveau blog de read/write web pose une question majeure pour l’avenir de joost et des plateformes de vidéos. “Est ce que les fournisseurs d’accès font perturber la fête de la vidéo en ligne ?&#8… [...]

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  34. Gerry says:

    I agree completely, I am with the Australian ISP Telstra and am on the “Liberty Plan” (unlimited) and after a short 12gigs my 17mbs/256kbs cable is slowed 2 a near dial up speed of 64kbs. I believe that Telstra is not trying to rip me of but rather not with the times. Many ISP don’t understand that there is a large shift to online video content, much of which is free and legally so (podcasting etc).

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  36. Alan Abbey says:

    We are writing about this buffering issue as it affects Joost on our new website, http://juicedonjoost.com/ – everything the Joost fan and aficionado needs to navigate and enjoy Joost.

  37. [...] Will ISPs spoil the online video party? | last100 Alors va-t-on avoir droit à regarder Joost ou pas ? (tags: joost netneutrality) [...]

  38. deepak says:

    well i am surprised to read it… if this is the condition in UK, one of the most developed nation in world, then now i feel contentious over the service my ISP is providing in India….

    why can’t people there in UK sue those creepy ISP’s for throttling a so called “unlimited connection”.

    nice article by the way…..

  39. TDMPRO2K says:

    I live in the UK, and it is a nightmare. I have recently moved ISP’s due to they restricting my access. Unfortunately They just terminate your contract if you moan at them. I have now moved ISP’s but I can see me moving again due to amount of bandwidth I used, due to downloads like 4OD.
    The point that needs to be addressed is what is a reasonable limit?.. 60gb, 80gb or 100gb.
    I can see that they have a problem with the amount of people using the ADSL service, but saying people who pay £35+ per month should be enough to cover cost to sort this out.

    Hail to the ISP that says unlimited and is………………….. I hope and prey it will come soon.

  40. Jimmy says:

    Not true — some Tier 1 ISPs do offer non capped or throttled products. This problem will be seen with the regional, reseller-model based ISPs.

  41. [...] Will ISPs spoil the online video party? – last100 With an ever greater amount of video being consumed online, many Internet users are in for a shock. There’s a dirty little secret in the broadband industry: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) don’t have the capacity to deliver the bandwidth that they claim to offer. One way ISPs attempt to conceal this problem is to place a cap of say 1GB per-month per user, something which is common in the UK for many of the lower-cost broadband packages on the market. [...]

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  44. John Thomas says:

    Have any of you looked at the actual COST to the ISPs? Full T-1′s from a quality upstream can cost $1000′s per month, and yet you feel “entitled” to have this access for $39.99 per month? The reality is that speed costs money- how fast can you afford? There is a wireless ISP NextWeb (Covadwireless) here in the San Francisco Bay area that sells 1.5 Mbits/sec burstable to 6 Mbits/sec for $299 per month-that is a realistic price point. For those that have fiber and other *cheap* bandwidth, that is great for you. Most ISPs are not trying to rip you off, they are simply trying to make a living. If most ISP’s were able to get 100 megabit upstreams for $1000 per month, you would see your prices fall like a rock. The reality is that many ISP’s are paying 10′s of thousand of dollars for their upstreams. Do you think they should offer 10 Megabits/sec uncapped to the end users for $20 per month? If their 10 meg upstream costs them $10,000 per month, they would have to have something like 3,000 users to be able to pay for the upstream and salaries for their employees. Then, when all 3,000 users got online, it would be a crawl.

  45. [...] found Last100’s comment very interesting on the fact that three hours a month is all some users would get out of Joost: With an ever greater amount of video being consumed online, many Internet users are in for a [...]

  46. Lesly Misteus says:

    Hi

    Let’s not use the term “dirty little secret”… ALL Network HAVE TO BE oversubscribed to be economically viable. ALL Networks, be they Roads or Communications. Think about, it is quite possible to build a road wide enough to NEVER have a bottleneck.. You could also build a Telecom Network that is non-blocking but most of this capacity (which would not come cheap) will not be used almost 90% of the time…Question How much will such networks cost? How much will YOU the user pay for this for the provider to recoup its investment? Oversubscription allows us to enjoy these relatively low-cost for high speed and it is a testimony to how well it works that we have high speed in our home.
    Video on the present Internet infrastructures will tax it of that I am sure, it is a hard situation for ISP to provide video which tends to turn the oversubscription ratios on their heads. I believe, that the solution, strangely enough, resides in peer-to-peer like networks, which can be extremely efficient in streaming but this may depends on the relative popularity of a given stream..

  47. Hornet says:

    John Thomas and Lesly Misteus hit the nail on the head. I work for a small ISP doing IP over SAT providing broadband like BW doing both voice and data. We manly provide access to constructing crews, remote parts of the world, and thrid world country’s and Emergency Response Units.. Throttling back certain types of traffic and oversubscribing the only way anyone can provide affordable access. In our model, we get the double whammy. Insanely high BW cost over a satellite, then the circuit to the internet. We use TDMA, so streaming a video and alike kills the other users. You have to understand, that we provide business class BW. We do not sign up the typical home user so throttle back anything that not bushiness related. There’s no way that P2P and BT fits in under that. The other thing that not mentioned here is the kind of traffic that P2P and BT creates. I’ve observed one customer have +13,000 connections to a P2P network.

    If you put your bushiness hat on, it would not make sense to allow someone to consume 90% of the BW on something like P2P or BT when ERU’s come online. In that sense, peoples life are at risk, one customer dose not have the right to download movie,songs..etc. We live in a big world with big demands, not just your house.

  48. [...] There are issues that need to be addressed. Just ask the British. With a cap on Internet usage allowance, any Briton with an Internet connection can typically only view roughly three hours of programming on Joost before using up their monthly usage allowance. After that, top-up charges apply. Both in Canada, and in Britain, bandwidth restrictions, placing caps on data transfers, throttling during peak times and ‘traffic or packet shaping’ from high-speed ISPs result in much slower internet connection speeds (than what you are actually paying for) and limited usage. With Apple TV you can’t even directly connect to the Internet to view programming. The footage must be downloaded to one’s computer first before transferring it to your television via the stripped down MacMini. Besides, any computer with a TV Card has the same capability of viewing downloaded footage on your television set. With AppleTV, it is also necessary that the user have a HDTV. However, most of the footage available for download on the Internet is not HD compliant. Despite the fact that Joost is compatible with Apple TV, and the viewing quality is quite good with Joost, what is the point of spending all of this money on a HDTV and AppleTV, when the quality of the footage viewed will be equal to, or less than that of broadcast cable television? [...]

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  51. Kshl says:

    hey guys… wot ye say about ADSL in Mauritius. The only ISP is Mauritius Telecom. For 256 kbps conection you pay about $30. You get a 1GB cap. After the 1GB cap, the speed is even less than dial up. There are also smaller ISPs, like nomad,… but these ISPS all take their connection from Mauritius Telecom. and their connection is far more crappy.

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  70. Patrick says:

    I seriously hop this doesn’t happen… I was just about to add online video.

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