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NTL Broadband bandwidth limits protests carry on
Wednesday 09 April 2003 18:42:00 by Andrew Ferguson is a new website that is setting out to campaign for Unlimited Broadband Services. The initial focus will of course be NTL's Broadband services which all have a download cap of 1GB on 3 individual days in every fourteen day period. The 60 day period that NTL originally stated as being a monitoring period is ending, and there is the risk that the first transgressors will be getting their warnings.

The remit behind this new website is interesting, by pushing unlimited access it may actually force providers to spend more on infrastructure costs, thus forcing the cost to the majority up. Most Internet access services rely on the fact that not everyone will be downloading all the time, a small percentage of users downloading close to the technical limit a day will normally be tolerated though. For a service to be truly unlimited it would require 1:1 contention to be built into the service, which would drastically increase the costs of backhaul service, e.g. if an ADSL ISP was to run its BT Central link with no contention the costs would increase by around £10-20 per user on average just on a 512kbps service. Of course the provider would also need to increase its peering bandwidth which will also cost more money, and higher capacity switching/routing hardware.

Perhaps a better campaign would be to ensure that service providers allow fair use of their systems, e.g. only apply limits during the peak hours, averaging download limits over a month, i.e. allowing for people who use the connection heavily for 5 days, then do not use it beyond the average 100MB/day. Another important factor will be what happens when people exceed the limits if any exist. Are excessive users speed capped lower for a short period, or do they end up paying business sized connection prices which may be double their normal monthly fee.

One thing that NTL has woefully ignored is a tiered system, e.g. 0.8GB/day limit for 128kbps service, 3GB/day for 600kbps service and a 5GB/day limit for the 1Mbps service. Limits like this would encourage heavier users to still subscribe to the faster service, rather than downgrade to a cheaper service and simpler use their full quota every day.

Bandwidth controls are not always an evil device, they can preserve the quality of service for the majority at times. The important thing is that providers need to ensure that they do not alienate the heavy users, who often are the most vocal at both praising and putting down a service.

At the end of the day, the topic of capping/throttling can be debated till people are blue in the face, usually what it boils down to is Service Providers trying to supply the highest possible speed service to people for the lowest possible cost. Something must give eventually, and in many cases around the world it is the ability to treat contended services as personal leased lines. Watching the price of say cable modem services in North America, the trend is for slow price rises, often triggered by smaller providers folding and the new company introducing new pricing structures.


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