Bandwidth Throttling and Small Business
The bottom line for Comcast appears to be: you're using too much. We're just not going to tell you how much is too much, because we're the ISP.
It's not just Comcast, either, back in 2002, CNet wrote that ISPs are considering new pricing plans that would adversely affect file-swapping. Bell Canada customers suffered through a 10Gb cap but complained that the monitoring software wasn't BC's responsibility.
Internet bandwidth usage is growing, some say wildly, for US businesses. Most companies buy broadband with speeds much higher than their workers have at home and with an inexpensive Flash key, a worker can download movies or songs and transfer them to their pockets with little trace, except for that pesky bandwidth usage.
ISPs are accused of bandwidth throttling, or traffic shaping, to slow down people using P2P software file sharing. Bell Canada calls it "downgrading the internet services of bandwidth hogs," and this month the Canadian Association of Internet Providers has asked the Canadian federal regulators to prohibit BC's throttling of Web traffic on their network.
The implications for small business? Last month, Bell informed smaller Internet Service Providers that it was bringing in traffic-shaping policies on the network space it sells to them, effectively downgrading the services these smaller companies are able to provide to their customers. How about US businesses? What sort of bandwidth regulation might they be looking toward?
According to Ars Technica, since last year , Comcast has grown increasingly aggressive about cutting down on the bandwidth used by its subscribers. Tactics started with going after the highest-volume users of its service, and suggesting they needed to pay for higher levels of service. But the company really grabbed the spotlight once word slipped out that it was throttling P2P traffic, a practice that drew the ire not only of its users but, more significantly, the FCC. We see through leaked memos posted at Ars Technica that Time Warner is proposing different subscriber plans with varying bandwidth caps.
An increasing number of small businesses are starting as home offices and some rarely need to move into rented space to work effectively and become profitable. Relying primarily on Internet connectivity to work, home-office users might be the most impacted of any bandwidth cap enforcement by major ISPs. And don't bother reading Comcast's AUP to determine how much bandwidth you're allowed: it's pretty vague when it comes to bandwidth limits (there are no hard numbers). Comcast isn't the only player heading down this road; in fact, ISPs have begun turning to bandwidth caps in an attempt to cut down on the amount and type of traffic flowing through their networks.
What should small business do?
- Monitor your bandwidth. A Free Bandwidth Monitor for Windows is available from the OS folks at Sourceforge.net and Rokario offers a free "lite" version to meter traffic in a Windows environment. More free and shareware bandwidth monitors are here.
- Keep track of your bandwidth usage over time with Cyber Bandwidth Monitor, a little Windows utility that plots your network activity visually on a graph.
- Get a pro tool to manage bandwidth usage. Netequalizer has some great unsolicited reviews, but make sure you've got IT people to install it and show you how to use it.
How serious is the situation? A 2007 report by the US firm Nemertes Research warned that the information superhighway could become clogged with data by 2010. The report warns that decreasing bandwidth availability could effectively neutralize the development of creative online endeavors like Google, YouTube or Amazon. The implications are serious; the situation real.
Bandwidth usage is outpacing new infrastructure development and in just a few years, Web pages will again be agonizingly slow to load and streaming videos a mere memory. Expect bandwidth throttling or capping to become new policy and anticipate paying more for the same speed you're getting now.