At the turn of the last decade almost every Internet user was asking for more bandwidth. As transfers of music and video increased in popularity, having the fattest possible pipe became an almost universal dream.
Over the past few years the situation has improved somewhat and in many regions of the world users now have more available bandwidth than they can consume. But for a minority there is no such thing as enough and maxing out a connection is a daily activity.
BitTorrent users are famously bandwidth hungry and as such they have been regularly targeted by ISPs looking to more effectively manage their capacity. While Comcast’s infamous torrent meddling is now six years ago, some ISPs are still looking to introduce controls to relegate the world’s favorite file-sharing protocol.
This week Aussie ISP Telstra confirmed it would be pressing ahead with ‘trials’ aimed at ensuring that its customers “enjoy the best quality of service.” The ISP says that traffic on its ADSL network has doubled on average every 12 months for the past four years so to cope it’s going to have to better manage its network. It appears they will do this by meddling with file-sharing traffic.
“This latest trial is focused on how our customers respond when network management techniques are applied in order to manage congestion,” explains Telstra director John Chambers. “Some trial participants will be asked to evaluate how speed differences on non-time sensitive applications, like Bit Torrent, impact their overall customer experience.”
While it’s easy to see how BitTorrent could be classified as less time sensitive than HTTP for example, one could imagine the response if Telstra said they would classify Netflix in the same way as torrents. They can’t do that of course, since Netflix isn’t even available Down Under, but if bandwidth is short now, things are probably going to get worse when it is.
So, preparing for this eventuality, Telstra are looking for some volunteers to have their torrent traffic throttled to see how it affects their Internet experience. The big question is this: why on earth would BitTorrent users volunteer to have their traffic meddled with?
It’s a bit like asking if drivers would put themselves forward to have someone else take control of the accelerator in their car. Light users might not object so much but heavier users – the ones who are presumably causing the problems – aren’t going to put themselves forward for this. So what’s the point? Rival ISP iiNet believes that the trials have an ulterior motive.
“I often describe it as boiling the frog – you just do it by gently turning up the heat,” said John Lindsay, CTO at iiNet.
“They are starting to take their customers on a journey. They know what the end point looks like, but they don’t want to describe it too clearly just yet for fear of scaring off the profitable customers. Calling it a trial is a nicer way of introducing the concept and the technology into the business.”
At the moment Telstra are limiting the availability of this trial to just a few hundred keen volunteers, so if you fancy having your torrent traffic temporarily meddled with – perhaps with a view to those changes being implemented long-term – hurry over to Telstra now and get your name down.
“I would reconfirm that this trial does not involve looking at or recording the content of what customers chose to consume on the internet,” Telstra’s John Chambers concludes.