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Reason Foundation

No Free Lunch on the Net

Steven Titch
May 4, 2006, 2:14pm

In another well-reasoned comment on the foolishness of network neutrality, Gerald Wesel of CNet's News.com reports that research conducted by Ellacoya Networks shows that five percent of broadband subscribers can consume nearly 90 percent of the bandwidth, primarily by using high-bandwidth applications such as streaming media and, especially, file sharing. These demands are more than doubling network capacity requirements each year. As Internet usage grows, Wesel writes, it will be necessary to manage traffic to ensure fairness of service quality for everyone.
"By contrast, up to 90 percent of broadband subscribers consume less than 10 percent of network bandwidth. They most often check their e-mail, browse the Web and send instant messages. The problem--and the unfairness--occurs during times of peak congestion, when the activity of the 5 percent of heavy-use subscribers slows things down for the 90 percent using far less bandwidth-intensive applications. In addition, the issue goes beyond convenience: How will a service provider guarantee that a 911 call will get through a congested network if the provider is forbidden from prioritizing real-time traffic? To solve the problem, some suggest simply building more capacity. But that won't work, for the same reason that crowded suburbs cannot shorten commute times by simply building more roads. Without planning for what kind of traffic is coming and where it will occur, those extra roads will just fill up and jam again in no time. "
Ellacoya Networks, a Merrimack, N.H.-based start-up, manufactures equipment used to manage carrier bandwidth. Far from being a "sock puppet" of the Bells, its customers include the municipal wireless operation in Chaska, Minn., the darling of the pro-net neutrality, anti-incumbent municipal wireless set (and the only successful muni operation they can name).


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