Trying To Slow Down BitTorrent Traffic Will Backfire, Badly

from the bad-bad-plan dept

Over the past couple of years, a bunch of ISPs have started (usually quietly) applying traffic shaping efforts to slow down your high bandwidth applications like BitTorrent. This is part of what the whole network neutrality debate is about, but this has more to do with the ISPs trying to keep out services that use up more bandwidth then they budgeted for. What it really represents is the inability of ISPs to recognize a simple fact: if you offer people bandwidth, they’ll figure out ways to use it. The ISPs got into this big race with each other, and all promised unlimited bandwidth at cheap prices, making the calculation that the demand for bandwidth wouldn’t increase very much, and most people wouldn’t use very much at all. They were wrong. But, rather than admit that they made a mistake, they suddenly pretend that the “all you can eat” broadband they sold you is something different — one where they can arbitrarily limit what you can do with that bandwidth. They sold you one thing, with the belief that you wouldn’t actually use it, and now that you are, they’re shoving in place temporary fixes to stop you from using what they sold you. Of course, there are many who believe the whole thing is simply a ruse to try to charge everyone more money, a concept that gained steam when a loose-lipped CTO from Qwest admitted that file sharing traffic isn’t actually much of a burden for them, and he didn’t understand other ISPs claiming it was such a problem.

The funny thing, though, is that whether or not it really is a burden, the idea of using traffic shaping is absolutely going to backfire. As we’ve already discussed, the more ISPs try to snoop on or “shape” your internet usage, the more that’s going to be a great selling point for encryption. People are going to increasingly encrypt all of their internet usage, from regular surfing, to file sharing to VoIP — as it makes it that much more difficult to figure out what kind of traffic is what and to do anything with it. Broadband Reports today is moderating something of a debate on whether or not encrypting BitTorrent is a good thing, with Wired taking the bad side and TorrentFreak (not surprisingly) taking the good side. Of course, it’s really all a matter of perspective. It may be good for some people or bad for the others — but what’s most amusing, is that encrypting all of this traffic will simply add a lot of overhead for the ISPs to deal with. That means, for all their talk about how file sharing traffic was a burden on their network, by trying to slow it down with traffic shaping, they’re only likely to increase the burden as everyone shifts to encrypted systems making it more difficult and more costly for them to do anything about it. Add to this that the traffic shaping hardware costs money that could have gone into simply upgrading their overall network, and it seems doubly problematic. They’re left with an expensive solution that doesn’t solve the issue and actually makes it worse, when they could have just spent more on upgrading their network to handle more capacity.

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Comments on “Trying To Slow Down BitTorrent Traffic Will Backfire, Badly”

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The Truth says:

Re: Re:

You are missing one very important point.

While the ISP’s may be complaining about something that is not actually a bandwidth issue, you are missing the point that almost all ISP’s don’t allow consumer grade internet service customsers to use servers or to share files (in turn becoming a server).

By running things like BitTorrent and other P2P applications you are in fact hosting which is not within the TOS agreements.

James Bond says:

Re: Re: The Truth......

Is that sending an Email is file sharing as is any interaction using the internet,call for a file,save as ect.I am in an area where high speed is not available and almost touching 5 kbps with a modem connection is a wet dream.When I first hooked to the internet in 2000 it was “Unlimited” and sold to me that way but is really only 200 hours in reality and getting picky the server apparently is in the land of the fruits and nuts (California) and switches over at 197 hours at month end for me here in Michigan.ISP’s peddling broadband ought to do as builders and installers of air conditioning do and select the capacity of the units based on a full building of people and not square foot of an empty one.The entire concept of high speed is using it and if the carrier becomes a censor just to cut costs that is as cheapass as you can get,misrepresentation and fraud for certain!

Miskaone says:

Re: Re: Re:The Truth about The Truth

Bingo, you hit the nail on the head but did not know that you were using a hammer. Sure these for mentioned services not with-in the TOS and I am sure some lawyers are getting at-a-boy’s now. But why are American internet providers more in favor of laywer-ing up their contracts and interpretation of these contracts? Why not spend your resources to continue the development and applications of the technologies that will stay ahead of bandwidth demands. No its the same corporate American game of lets squeeze what we offer instead of offering a better product (for more money of course). There was a time when smart people would see an opportunity for what it is, and try not pervert their system so that all have a bad taste from the product that they sell. As what I think most are afraid of the ISP are heading down a path that will lower the QoS and increase the cost of our already out of date Internet provisioning. Whats next will we have to pay for use based on time of day, type of content, location of requested resources and on and on and on.

joat (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ah, that argument. It’s a slippery slope to suing all of your customers if you use that one. If BT is a server, so’s your use of Vonage, Skype in some cases, many online games, some IRC clients, and some of those fancy Java applets on sites that you visit.

Most TOS agreements were written before P2P services. You either need to update the TOS agreement (which will drive customers away when they figure it out), change your advertising (your competitors will love you), or live with it (your customers will tolerate you).

My suggestion: come up with a better argument.

`Zidane Tribal (user link) says:

its harder than you think.

just to start out… “but what’s most amusing, is that encrypting all of this traffic will simply add a lot of overhead for the ISPs to deal with.”. the encryption/decryption is performed on the end-nodes (the client pc), the isp wont have to do any encryption.

it is remarkably difficult to shape filesharing traffic, especially with bittorrent. i use ktorrent (i am a linux user), which allready supports encryption and more importantly, allows a variety of different methods of connection (changing ports, tcp and udp trackers, proxy support etc). considering such connectivity options are in place before traffic shaping is in place, imagine how creative the protocol creators can be when they actually *need* to be.

considering how popular bittorrent is, and the fact that it does actually have legitimate uses, i suspect that any attempt to slow down its traffic will only help increase it (more overhead for different transfer methods and perhaps even publicizing it even further).

i am curious to what happenned to the ‘common carrier’ idea? i thought as soon as isp’s started acknowledging that a specific type of data is travelling accross their network that they became responsible for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: its harder than you think.

Hmm, not sure I agree with that. Here in the UK if you pop along to and look at the forums you will see hundreds of posts about extremely slow torrent traffic after an ISP has introduced traffic shapping. And indeed many people are complaining of this slow down when using encryption.

So don’t believe the ISPs can’t slow your torrent traffic, they can.

Shaman says:

Re: its harder than you think.

Dead wrong. It’s simple to arbitrate traffic. In fact, you don’t even need to know anything about the protocol to do that, just take the threshold of the link/s involved and when the threshold is reached, start doing fair queuing.

Simple. Easy. Cheap.

For an example of an entry version (works great, however), see NetEqualizer’s gear.

MikeT (user link) says:

They don't like the simple solution

I’ve been saying for a long time that metered bandwidth is the way to go. It’s the only way to effectively increase the quality of service for the average user without costing them an arm and a leg. On top of that, it’s just absurd that we have a system that allows 1% of a company’s users to use 40% of the network without charging them. Imagine how it would be if the electrical grid operated on that principle. It’d be a nightmare.

For most people, if you had a plan where $15/month got you full 1.5mbps DSL with 2GB-3GB download, then $1-$1.5/GB after that, that would be reasonable. Many people would never even use the full 2GB-3GB at this point, but those of us who would would end up paying a small premium to really tax the network.

I can’t help but think that if you are using 50-100GB a month right now, that you are probably either making someone like Steve Jobs very rich or abusing a file sharing network. There simply aren’t enough common services that would demand that much bandwidth per person to justify even most geeks using that much bandwidth per month.

ScytheNoire (profile) says:

The REAL Truth

TOS agreement? In case you never read one, they almost always state that anything they say, can and will change whenever they want, without having to notify you. Well, I guess that just makes it pretty useless, since you can agree to something one day, and then tomorrow, it can be something totally different, which you didn’t agree to at all, but they can still claim that you did. This happened with a previous ISP of mine, whom when I signed up, was for “unlimited bandwidth”, but, a year later, “unlimited” turned into 30GB a month. Odd how that works with no notice to the customer.

It’s all about information though, and ISP’s have to realize that P2P is the way things are done these days, and it’s the future. Hosting is going to be every computer connected to the internet, it’s only logical, and it’s the future. Static servers are a thing of the past, and even applications are going to switch from being hosted on your computer to your computer simply being a client in a huge network of computers all connected via the internet.

Now consider that one of the largest played online games in the world, World of Warcraft, uses BitTorrent to distribute it’s content, via P2P, and we will be seeing more companies in the future using this, including gaming consoles, it’s a losing battle for any P2P network to try to fight bandwidth traffic. Expand, grow, or die. North America is already falling far behind other parts of the world when it comes to bandwidth, and if they keep up these games, the United States will just become a second nation when it comes to technology, killed off by their own stubbornness.

Shaman says:

Re: The REAL Truth

Cost recovery isn’t an issue, it’s a necessity. Right now the transit costs are such that cost recovery is impossible if the end consumers use all available bandwidth steadily.

That’s the fact, although many people don’t want to admit it to themselves. Yes it can be overcome at some point, but there will *have to be* a tiered Internet of sorts to truly achive it.

theinternetguy says:

Re: The REAL Truth

I am a small WISP and I give my customers 1.5 megs down and 1 meg up. I give my customers 8 gigs worth of data transfer and the charge $2.50 per gig there after. The thing that I have found is most of the P2P traffic is illegal downloads. The wireless industry has not been able to keep up with the data through put needed to give customers huge amounts of data transfer. Currently we are able to push through an Access Point 5 megs per second. I have no problem giving customers a lot more throughput if I had fibre in the ground. My cost per meg is $35.00 so if I do a 10 to 1 ratio I make a killing and could give customers almost anything they wanted. Fibre to the home is not going to be here for another 5-10 years in most cities. Then it will be controlled by the big boys leaving us smaller ISP’s out in the cold. Most DSL customers that are close to the CO are able to use unlimited data transfer for their monthly fee without hinderance from the DSL providor. So, for some of us ISP’s its not that we are being greedy, we simply can not accomodate the burden that has been caused by P2P traffic. Another thing to keep in mind….The internet in its current form, was never meant to be transferring these large files, streaming music and video. The internet as a whole needs to be revamped or it will end up breaking. Read the following article by Dr Clark,258,p1.html

Wolff000 says:

Re: Capitalism will correct things

Not necessarily. How many broadband ISP options do you have in your area? In mine I am lucky and have a few b ut I have friends in other parts of the country that there are oly 1 or 2 options and both have inflated prices and limited bandwidth. Since they won’t share lines the only way a new company can move in is to establish thier own infrastructure and then hope customers come on board. A costly and risky situation that few companies would jump into. Especially when the competition is huge companies that have been there for a very long time. Unfortunately the only solution I can see is government regulation. Of course that brings up a whole slew of other issues but we’ll leave that for another day.

Matthew says:

Back in my day...

I worked for a smaller ISP and traffic shaping was, sadly, necessary when circuits in the more remote areas became saturated. These shaping methods were usually temporary until the backbone got off its tail and built a proper high-bandiwdth circuit to the area at a high cost to us; which we did not pass on to the customers for several years.

I’m just saying its not solely on the ISP. A hundred complaints about slow P2P traffic is better than 5000 people complaining they can’t get their email. Yes, the ISP may have not foreseen the immense traffic to be consumed by a two-stop-sign town, but without that ISP’s investment there would be no high-speed at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

“While the ISP’s may be complaining about something that is not actually a bandwidth issue, you are missing the point that almost all ISP’s don’t allow consumer grade internet service customsers to use servers or to share files (in turn becoming a server).”

Are you sure about that? I have heard from some people online about their ISP blocking certain ports and stuff, but it’s all relatively minor. TONS of people all over the world “host” things on their computers, and ISPs can’t really do much to stop it without selectively filtering certain content, which somebody already pointed out should make them liable for said content. My ISP blocks absolutely nothing. I have IRC and bittorrent stuff running almost all the time, all year long. I also have an ftp setup on my computer for a few specific things, doesn’t get used much. Believe me, I make full use of what little upload bandwidth they give me.

About all ISPs can really do is limit your upload bandwidth to stop you from turning your computer into a regular server. If they gave you 3Mbit or higher upload, then they’d have a real bandwith problem on their hands. Fortunately for us, they are slowly being forced to relax that restriction as more and more digital content goes online from home users, like PC gaming, uploading photos and videos, etc. I believe it is an ISP’s job to provide us a non-restricted and uncensored connection to the Internet, with a reasonable amount of bandwidth at a price that is both fair to the consumer and profitable to the ISP so that they can further increase their services in the future. Things like ridiculously inflated pricing, limited bandwidth, filtered content, prioritized content, etc., all exist solely due to corporate greed and are unhealthy for all parties involved.

Anonymous Coward says:

If bandwidth is the problem (and not P2P or any particular application) then encryption will do little. It’s easy to throttle people using high bandwidth for prolonged periods of time. Joe User will never know the difference (assuming present usage models) as his traffic will be bursty and not sustained transfer.

Even for P2P applications new throttling techniques look at the number of outgoing connections from an IP instead of looking at packet headers to detect. You may be able to reduce the number of outgoing connections in your P2P app to avoid detection, at the cost of download speed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Becaue encription is done on the client sides, doesn’t mean the ISP will not see an increase in it’s burden with “encryption” however it will have more data to scan to try and “sort” but then again, i could be wrong. because if the data is encrypted, then only a few extra packets are sent and those contain the key to decrypting.

but if each individual packet is encrypted seperately, and transmitted with keys…that could “double” the ammount of data the isp needs to “browse” through. so, dependingon encryption implemention could determine overall perfromance

tony says:

Re: A little off topic.

just do a search, there are so many excellent sites out there that can teach you about encryption. here’s a couple to get you started:

I just grabbed a couple from a few links I had titled “encrypt/decrypt” so I have no idea is this will be relevant to what you actually need/want. like I said, just do a search, and you’ll find plenty.


Anonymous Coward says:

If we have to use encryption to save your American asses,
let’s just do it right :

You can use it the ordinary way, with encryption only fooling your ISP, but not fooling the RIAA.
Or you can use it smartly, with encryption making any trackback (of origin of message/file) impossible.

Freenet started it all, and now there is stuff like I2P, through which virtually anything can be encrypted, Bittorrent, Gnutella, email, chat, servers, blogs, websites, …

It’s there for you to play with. Do some forward thinking.

isthis says:

If we have to use encryption to save your American asses, let’s just do it right :

You can use it the ordinary way, with encryption perhaps fooling your ISP, but not the RIAA.
Or you can use it smartly, with encryption making any trackback (of origin of message/file) impossible.

Freenet started it all, and now there is stuff like I2P, through which virtually anything can be encrypted at high speeds, Bittorrent, Gnutella, email, chat, servers, blogs, websites, …

It’s there for you to play with. Do some forward thinking.

dudefella says:

Re: speakeasy t1

hate to break it to you, but speakeasy does traffic shaping as well, T1 or no. they use cisco SCE’s to shape traffic, and it doesnt matter if its encrypted or not. if you are consistently the top user at a pop they are having trouble with, they will slowly and quietly rate limit your traffic. my friend had a long talk with their abuse personnel after getting on their shit list.

Zan says:

Why Traffic Shaping Doesn't Work

The following is an excerpt from a Cnet article.

On competition and technology
Posted by mollywood CNET (See profile) – July 11, 2006 8:30 PM PDT

Gary Bachula is vice president of the Internet2 project, which is, in his words, “a very advanced, private, ultra-high-speed research and education network called Abilene.” These guys have, literally, built a new Internet from scratch. And you know what Bachula said in his testimony before Congress on the issue of Net neutrality? I’ll quote in entirety below, but here it is in a nutshell: we tried a tiered Internet, and it doesn’t work. Packet prioritization is a canard. All you need is bandwidth. To wit:

“Having deployed an advanced broadband network to over five million users for some seven years now, we at Internet2 believe our experience will interest Congress as you consider important telecommunications legislation.

We are aware that some providers argue against net neutrality, saying that they must give priority to certain kinds of Internet bits, such as video, in order to assure a high quality experience for their customer. Others argue that they want to use such discrimination among bits as a basis for a business model. Let me tell you about our experience at Internet.

When we first began to deploy our Abilene network, our engineers started with the assumption that we should find technical ways of prioritizing certain kinds of bits, such as streaming video, or video conferencing, in order to assure that they arrive without delay. For a number of years, we seriously explored various “quality of service” schemes, including having our engineers convene a Quality of Service Working Group. As it developed, though, all of our research and practical experience supported the conclusion that it was far more cost effective to simply provide more bandwidth. With enough bandwidth in the network, there is no congestion and video bits do not need preferential treatment. All of the bits arrive fast enough, even if intermingled.

Today our Abilene network does not give preferential treatment to anyone’s bits, but our users routinely experiment with streaming HDTV, hold thousands of high quality two-way video conferences simultaneously, and
transfer huge files of scientific data around the globe without loss of packets.

We would argue that rather than introduce additional complexity into the network fabric, and additional costs to implement these prioritizing techniques, the telecom providers should focus on providing Americans with an abundance of bandwidth – and the quality problems will take care of themselves.

For example, if a provider simply brought a gigabit Ethernet connection to your home, you could connect that to your home computer with only a $15 card. If the provider insists on dividing up that bandwidth into various separate pipes for telephone and video and internet, the resulting set top box might cost as much as $150. Simple is cheaper. Complex is costly.”

I urge you to read his entire testimony. It’s extremely instructive.

Billy says:

Grow, not limit

“While the ISP’s may be complaining about something that is not actually a bandwidth issue, you are missing the point that almost all ISP’s don’t allow consumer grade internet service customsers to use servers or to share files (in turn becoming a server).”

My response to that is then, what is the difference if 10 of my friends request a a bunch of large documents/images/etc to be sent to them by email as compared with sending over the bittorrent protocol instead of using an email protocol to share files??? Main difference I see is that it is two different protocols.

I have a good response to ISP’s fighting against bittorrent/servers(since we all know it is really about them trying to be stingy on the bandwidth)… tell them you do do daily/weekly backups online of your hard drive if they question your bandwidth consumption.

Steve says:


One thing a lot of people fail to understand about this issue is the degree to which “encryption” of BitTorrent traffic will be ineffectual. It gets around measures currently implemented by some ISPs to shape BitTorrent traffic, but it is not even a little bit hard for ISPs to deal with if they choose to do so. BitTorrent still needs to make a large number of connections, and still needs to upload about as much as it downloads on each of those connections. That’s trivial to spot and easy to shape regardless of whether you can read the protocol.

I’m as angry with the ISPs as the next guy. They sold the bandwidth, and they have an obligation to provide it. But at the same time, I can’t pretend that protocol “encryption” is going to be some kind of big disaster for them. The real issue they’re facing is that things like BitTorrent are driving consumer demand for more bandwidth, which is their meal ticket for the longer term. They need to meet the demand, rather than stifle it, or they’ll be doing themselves a great disservice.

Miskaone says:

Re: misconceptions

Your right on both points but there are other technique’s that can be employed and I forsee more methods coming if the ISP’s want to create an ARMs race. For instance anonymizing the traffic. Also P2P applications that pro-actively boycott request that come from ISP that shape traffic with nice little pop-up messages suggesting the user change ISP’s. These are few thing that would not be to difficult to develop. Again to your point why bother going down this path, offer better product that stay ahead of the demand.

Nate_0091 says:

Hows this they just cut you from the internet. I am on Comcast, they cut my service over 4weeks ago. Told me to call a abuse #, left a message and nothing. Any further calls resulted in the same BS and promises of callbacks. Today i finnaly get someone to admit its my use of Bittorrent that has me with a locked modem. NOW I said nothing about use of bt etc. They were all questions about filesharing etc attempting to trap me in some game. Either case I have a 45$ bill now and a 5$ modem lease bill for no service. And still no solution to getting back my internet.

Its all easy for people to say go somewhere else but its all a monopoly. DSL i have to pay for a landline to get it. Wireless is expensive and capped worse than cable (they even ban voip ports to sell their own voip) So waht are you to do when you have no choice but to accept the pit of deprivaty that is the local service provider?

This is becoming as bad as cable tv was in the 80s, Moving from house to house to get better service since there was only ONE company per county/region.
I wouldnt call this compition of capatalism but exploitation of the end user. At this rate ill remain the guy using other peoples wireless networks for FREE.

Dave says:

Make the most with what you've got

We’ve pretty much tried to solve the bandwidth problem on our own without looking to the ISP for a solution. With any network that has several users (many of whom are surfing/downloading more than working), bandwidth will become an issue eventually. Instead of paying for increased bandwidth, we just starting using a product (we use Netequalizer) to balance out bandwidth when needed based on applications. I think that this will be the eventual solution to the problem since it doesn’t put huge ISPs in a position to regulate and monitor content in the name of bandwidth optimization.

Ventzi says:

It would be ridiculous for an ISP to pay for such a bandwidth so that they can guarantee a bandwidth to all its clients, since most of the time most of such a bandwidth will be unused. Of course they could do that, but you wouldn’t want to be a client to such an ISP since your fee would be immense. Throtling the bittorrent traffic is a good thing – it allows your ISP to provide you with a low-cost service. If you really want a guaranteed bandwidth, buy a corporate plan, most ISPs offer that.

Adam says:

Most of the people whining here about this issue know absolutely nothing about running an ISP. The simple fact is, ISPs can’t get 3Mbps down for $50/month, so how in the world could they guarantee that to a customer and stay in business? It has just been common sense that the advertised speed is more of a max in optimum conditions rather than a guarantee. It wasn’t until the entitlement generation came along and thought illegal, oops, I mean free, music, movies, and television was their birthright that problems like we are seeing have emerged.

theinternetguy says:

Re: Caching

Ya, Thats the answer…..Use a cache server so that everyone in the movie industry and music industry can sue you and throw your butt in jail for copyright infringement. Has anyone read the copyright laws? As an ISP I would love to see the movie studios, artists and program writers sue each lame user that thinks everything on the internet is free for the taking. One person buys it and shares it with everyone else. The gamers are the only people that have a legitimate gripe about bittorrent slow downs. Most of the rest is all illegal file sharing.

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