Diffraction Analysis: Usage caps may punish wrong users

Diffraction Analysis has followed up earlier study and contemplation of the effect and usefulness of broadband usage caps with a new report that uses real service provider data to assess usage under caps.

The report, "Do Data Caps Punish the Wrong Users? A Bandwidth Usage Reality Check," is now available from Diffraction Analysis, and co-author Benoit Felten gave a glimpse of the results in a Fiberevolution blog post.

Felten said he and co-author Herman Wagter pursued the research two years after originally positing the theory that the bandwidth hog may be a mythical beast. Since then, many ISPs have moved to incorporate highly controversial broadband usage caps that force heavy bandwidth users to pay extra as they exceed cap limits. However, Felten and Wagter thought carriers were pursuing these strategies without having a true understanding of how bandwidth consumption really plays out.

Felten writes, "Our thesis was that most of these strategies are implemented without an accurate understanding of the customers' real time usage patterns, and as a result such strategies are neither accurate in targeting disruptive users, if they exist, nor fair to users who may consume a lot of data overall but not in a disruptive way. Further, our analysis aimed at assessing whether a very small number of users could indeed be considered to degrade quality for all other users."

The authors used real usage data from a single aggregation link operated by a North American ISP that volunteered for the project, and analyzed data consumption in five-minute time increments over a whole day.

Felten said the study results suggest that "data consumption is at best a poor proxy for bandwidth usage." Among other things, the researchers found that the top 1 percent of data consumers account for 20 percent of the overall consumption, but that only half of these "Very Heavy" users are customers of the highest service tier (6 Mbps), implying that "half of them have bandwidth usage restricted to 3 Mbps (the next service tier) or lower."

Are these and other findings (see the link below for more details) enough for service providers to reconsider current broadband usage cap policies?

For more:
-see Felten's Fiberevolution post

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CenturyLink is the latest telco to start metering broadband
Cable companies may be eyeing usage-based billing

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