The Telco Traffic Shaping Smokescreen

from the it's-all-about-the-control dept

A couple weeks ago, we had the story about BellSouth saying it wanted to prioritize traffic and services from certain (paying) partners -- or just its own services. This wasn't a surprise, as the telcos have been leaning towards this for a while. While we had thought that any move in this direction would lead to public outcry and an FCC mandate for network neutrality, we hadn't counted on Kevin Martin being so willing to roll over for telcos. It's certainly not as clear any more what will happen. This morning there's lots of buzz about an article in the Boston Globe saying that telcos are lobbying for just this right, with Slashdot, Boing Boing and Broadband Reports all weighing in. What's not entirely clear, though, is how serious this is. The Boston Globe article seems like it's really just a riff on the earlier BellSouth story without much new -- just tying together the obvious loose threads.

However, this whole issue has generated an interesting discussion between some of us here at Techdirt in trying to figure out what's going on. On one side, you can see why a telco would say it should be able to offer quality of service guarantees on services like VoIP and IPTV that it wants to offer. After all, they want to offer the best possible service -- and if that means prioritizing the traffic, why not? However, what that ignores is that for most of these services there's no reason for additional QoS (Quality of Service) -- especially as broadband speeds increase. VoIP, for example, really doesn't take up that much bandwidth, so claiming it needs to be prioritized means one of two things: (1) the telcos own VoIP offerings are dreadfully programmed to hog bandwidth and they're woefully unprepared to offer more bandwidth or (2) they're looking to block competitors and charge more to partners. Which one seems more reasonable? With the telcos putting in new fiber networks they should be able to provide the necessary bandwidth needed for most of these applications without having to do any prioritization. If they're worried, there's a simple solution that avoids the prioritization issue altogether: increase the bandwidth offered. Complaining that people are overloading the network you're selling as "unlimited" (even if you don't mean it) so that you need to prioritize traffic doesn't really cut it.


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  1. identicon
    Some Guy, 13 Dec 2005 @ 3:16pm

    Re: QoS and VoIP

    I suppose my opinion is one of a utopian society (which doesn't exist, of course)....

    I see VoIP as something the telco should eat the cost on because it only helps them by enabling the use of one circuit for many purposes. However, if a business would like to buy a 48Mb circuit and run data, video, and VoIP over the same link, I have no problems with the provider charging a little extra for some extra QoS setup. Kind of like "We'll sell you a circuit that is more than capable of doing all these things. If you can handle marking things correctly into our equipment, we guarantee it'll be handled properly across our network. If you need our help getting QoS setup or want to use our device for your ACLs or rules, that'll cost you a little extra." I have no problems with this situation because it doesn't pentalize groups that know how to deal with QoS within their own network but still leaves a potential revenue stream open for the provider.

    As far as access to the priority to content providers... not sure what to think on that one. Again, in a utopian world, there would be 10 proviers in all areas and if one pissed off its customers, they'd simply move to another. But that's not the case (I should know... I live in Kansas!). What I'd really rather see is more peering and colocation associations with various content providers. More distributed hosting might really help improve the user experience without creating a huge quagmire like QoS for specific content providers.

    I don't have all the answers (obviously), but there's some really smart folks working on this stuff that have the Internet's best intersts in mind. I only hope the managers will get out of the way and let them work their magic!

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