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Category: ISPs

Worldwide mobile data traffic exploding, nearly tripled in 2010, Cisco says


The air is almost as thick with data as it once was with the smoke of the Industrial Revolution, with increasingly dense billows of bits traveling between the world's billions of mobile devices.

In 2010 alone, the amount of mobile data sent was 2.6 times what it was in 2009. And by 2015, people will send 26 times more mobile data than they do now, according to Cisco's annual Global Mobile Traffic Forecast.

That will mean 6.3 exabytes per month, said Suraj Shetty, Cisco's vice president of worldwide service provider marketing. "That's the equivalent of every man, woman and child on Earth sending 1,000 text messages every second," he said.

Yipes, better upgrade my plan!

Cisco says two-thirds of that data traffic will come from mobile video, as more people begin making video calls, sending each other clips they've recorded, and watching longer-form television and movies on their cellphones and tablets.

For a little perspective: Mobile traffic in 2010 was three times as large as all the world's combined Internet traffic in 2000. In short, mobile broadband is getting big -- everywhere.

"There are regions in the world where they have mobile Internet connectivity but are not on the electrical grid," said Doug Webster, Cisco's senior director of service provider marketing. "The Internet is breaking the electrical barrier."

The growth of mobile networks will come with an increase in wireless speeds too. The global average is about 200 kilobits per second now, but as more so-called 4G networks are erected around the world, the average will increase by a factor of 10, to about 2.2 megabits per second. That's on the low end of what home broadband brings today -- pretty astonishing, considering it includes mobile networks in all of the world's developing countries.

But not all of the data explosion is going to come from the rise in smart phones and tablets. In 2015, Cisco predicts, most of the mobile traffic will still come from laptops and netbooks (56%), while smart phones will account for about 27%, and tablets only about 3.5% of the traffic growth.

Cisco makes its predictions by pooling various sources, including data compiled by research firms, polling its own infrastructure of Internet servers, and sampling the data habits of more than 390,000 users who run Cisco's Global Internet Speed Test smart-phone application.


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-- David Sarno

Photo: A giant bubble of interstellar gamma rays discovered by NASA's Fermi telescope. Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video/Flickr

Netflix offers a way to rate broadband ISPs

Netflix data Netflix released some thought-provoking data Thursday that could help consumers torn between DSL and cable-modem service. Judging by those numbers, if your top priority is streaming video, go with cable modem.

The company issued the first of what it said would be monthly charts tracking how well different broadband Internet service providers delivered Netflix's high-definition movie streams. The faster the delivery (i.e., the higher the throughput), the better the picture quality is.

Those streams leave Netflix's servers at 4.8 Mbps, but the servers routinely downshift to slower data rates when they confront congestion on the path to the customer's home. (Netflix tries to keep that path as short as possible by using content delivery networks operated by the likes of Level 3.) How much they have to downshift -- and sacrifice picture quality -- depends in part on how much bandwidth the customer buys. But it also depends on how well the ISP manages the traffic on the facilities that its customers share.

According to Netflix, the seven ISPs with the best throughput are all cable operators: Charter, Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Suddenlink, Cablevision and Cable One. They all offered throughputs this month from 2.3 Mbps to 2.7 Mbps. Verizon and AT&T were next, clocking in at 2 Mbps to 2.2 Mbps in January. At the bottom of the list were Clearwire, a wireless broadband provider, and regional telephone companies Frontier and CenturyLink, which delivered throughputs of 1.4 Mbps to 1.6 Mbps this month.

Before Charter starts gloating, it should note that Rogers, a Canadian cable operator, averaged 3 Mbps in the Netflix HD tests.

The test is one way for Netflix, whose streams account for more than 20% of U.S. Internet traffic during peak times, to goad ISPs into improving throughput. ISPs, meanwhile, want Netflix to pick up more of the cost of delivering streams on their networks -- an idea that gets little or no support from Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

Internet porn could be blocked by British government

Porn It looks like the British government might be on its way to blocking Internet porn on home computers.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Times, Ed Vaizey, the nation's minister for culture, communications and creative industries, said he may ask Internet service providers to cut off access to Internet pornography sites.

The move, Vaizey said, would be designed to keep children from viewing the explicit material.

Users would have to individually request that providers lift the filter. Regulation, he argues, would be more effective than implementing parental controls.

Vaizey has already called a meeting with some of the largest broadband providers, including Virgin Media. Legislation, he said, is likely.

Critics told the Telegraph that such a block would be a bureaucratic mess, on top of being technologically impossible. Updated and thorough records of porn sites are unheard of. Screening for one site would likely obstruct other legitimate sites, they said, constituting a blow to free speech.


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-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: An editor works at Vivid Entertainment Group in Los Angeles. Credit: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times

Filling in the blanks on the FCC's Net neutrality proposal [Updated]

The Federal Communications Commission isn't releasing details of Chairman Julius Genachowski's latest proposal for Net neutrality rules, but staffers provided a couple of revealing clues Wednesday. 

First, the proposal doesn't back away from any of the six principles Genachowski laid out in his first Net neutrality speech in September 2009: the "four freedoms" endorsed by the FCC under the two previous Republican chairmen, plus requirements that broadband providers manage their networks transparently and without discriminating unreasonably among the various content sources, service providers and applications.

Second, the proposal mirrors a draft bill that Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.) tried to push through the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year, only to be blocked by a senior Republican. That measure -- which was backed by at least one key Republican on the committee, some broadband providers, tech industry players and advocacy groups -- would have been less intrusive than the FCC's original rulemaking proposal. More important, it would have barred the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service, which could have made it subject to price regulation and a host of other potential rules.

In particular ...

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Internet service satisfaction down slightly

Cox Economic woes mean customers are less likely to be satisfied with their high-speed Internet service.

Market research firm J.D. Power and Associates said Thursday that worries over costs and confusion about the wide array of pricing options from providers led to a less than 1% drop in overall satisfaction compared with 2009 among consumers with high-speed Internet in their homes. Satisfaction with service prices declined 2% compared with 2009.

The study -- based on almost 30,000 customer responses -- considered five factors: performance and reliability; cost of service; billing; offerings and promotions; and customer service.

The increase in customer unhappiness is a small change overall, but it signifies a priority shift among consumers, said Frank Perazzini, director of telecom services at J.D. Power. "As performance improves across all providers, price has moved into the driver's seat for driving consumer decisions."

This new frugal outlook has paradoxically led to a decrease in people switching between Internet services -- 8% this year compared with 11% last year -- as more adopt a "wait-and-see mood," Perazzini said.

"People are asking, 'Is there going to be a killer promotion? Maybe from another provider?' That's holding people back," he said.

Among those who do switch, relocation is the No. 1 cause, he said, followed by price and those choosing to upgrade to higher connection speeds.

The study also ranks providers by region. On the West Coast, Cox Communications comes out on top for highest overall customer satisfaction, followed by Cable One and Earthlink. Verizon outperforms its competitors in the South, while Optimum Online ranks highest in the East and WOW! in the North Central region.

Perazzini said the top trend potentially affecting Internet service in the future is Internet-based TV.

"There is a whole revolution going on with that," he said. "Are people going to get rid of cable and satellite altogether and just use the Internet for watching TV? Or will they keep cable and dabble in both?"

-- Shan Li

Photo: Cox Communications came out on top for overall satisfaction on the West Coast. Credit: Cox Communications.


High-speed Internet connection too costly for many FCC finds


According to the Federal Communications Commission, 93 million Americans, or nearly one-third of the population, do not have a high-speed Internet connection in their homes.

In an attempt to determine why more Web users aren't using a broadband connection to surf the Web, the FCC surveyed over 5,000 Americans to see what is stopping them from using high-speed Internet services.

The study found that 36% of adults said they lack a broadband connection at home because the monthly fee to connect to the Web is too high. The FCC said that 15% of respondents said they couldn't afford a computer, while 9% said that they didn't want to enter into a long-term service agreement.

The FCC reported that there are also lingering issues with "digital literacy." It found that 22% of those who don't have broadband access said they lack "digital skills." Another 12% said that they have stayed away from broadband access because of their fear of Web "hazards."

Although Facebook users wouldn't agree, 19% of non-broadband adopters said the Internet is "a waste of time."

The FCC's survey is being used as supporting documentation for the organization's National Broadband Plan, which it will present to Congress on March 17. The plan will outline a strategy that will help the U.S. bring affordable broadband to more Americans.

Judging by the results of the FCC's survey, it might not be so easy. Internet service providers will be loath to reduce pricing to accommodate those who want broadband access but can't afford it. And attempting to convert those folks who think Web access is a "waste of time" might be a lost cause.

High-speed Web access for every American sounds great. But making it a reality will likely prove to be extremely difficult.

-- Don Reisinger

Photo: Floxy Gold looks at a computer at the South Los Angeles WorkSource Center where Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced a $7.5-million Recovery Act grant that will upgrade and expand 188 computer centers to provide the public with free broadband access to the Internet. Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

Does more broadband mean more piracy?

broadband, content filtering, Hollywood, ISPs, Verizon, AT&T, piracy, file-sharing In the $787-billion economic stimulus package enacted in February, Congress told the Federal Communications Commission to create a plan for extending broadband service to all Americans and increasing broadband speeds. It's an apple-pie, chicken-in-every-pot goal -- at least until people see the price tag. Nevertheless, there are plenty of disagreements over the details of the plan. One is a battle between copyright holders and consumer advocates over what to do about all the content that broadband users download or stream illegally. The former want Internet service providers to use technology to filter out unauthorized content flowing over their networks; the latter argue that filters won't work as advertised and will inflict an unacceptable amount of collateral damage on lawful Internet uses. I sympathize with the copyright holders' concerns about rampant unauthorized copying, but I'm not persuaded that filtering is the solution -- or that this proceeding is the place to have that debate.

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, laid out the case against filters ...

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Net neutrality: Let the wild rumpus start

Net neutrality, ISPs, broadband, Internet regulation, AT&T, cable modem, DSL As expected, the Federal Communications Commission agreed today to propose a set of Net neutrality rules based on the six principles that Chairman Julius Genachowski laid out in a speech last month. (For more background, see the FCC staff's presentation on the proposal.) Those principles would bar broadband providers from blocking customers from the content, applications or services of their choice; preventing them from connecting with the devices of their choice; discriminating unreasonably against any specific content, application or service; and concealing network management techniques in a way that prevents Web users from operating freely. There are at least four notable caveats, In a win for Hollywood, the protections would apply only to legal content and services, and Internet service providers would still be able to block the exchange of infringing material. ISPs would still be able to conduct "reasonable network management," including weeding out spam. The new rules wouldn't trump ISPs' obligations to cooperate with public safety officials. And the commission would permit ISPs to dedicate a portion of their bandwidth to "managed" services, such as pay TV channels or Internet phone calls. What services would qualify and how much bandwidth could be reserved remain to be determined, in what may be the most fiercely debated part of the new rules.

Some of the biggest broadband providers and their allies in Congress question whether the commission should adopt any rules, period -- and whether the FCC even has the authority to do so. For example, AT&T tried to derail the proposed rules in advance of the meeting, and its opposition isn't likely to diminish as the formal rule-making process goes forward. These opponents have found a sympathetic audience in the commission's two Republicans, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, who gave only partial support to the notice of proposed rule-making. McDowell and Baker said they welcomed the chance for a thorough public discourse on how best to maintain an open Internet but doubted that government regulations were the right course. They also questioned whether there is a problem here for the FCC to fix, noting that the commission has found only a handful of incidents of ISPs behaving in an anti-competitive way.

In McDowell's view, having more competition among broadband ISPs is the solution, and that competition is rapidly emerging. But the wireless providers he's counting on can't match the ever-increasing speeds deployed by cable TV operators and wired telephone companies. Given that there is virtually no competition within each market -- not many people have more than one cable provider or more than one local telco to choose from -- a duopoly will continue to reign over truly high-speed Internet services for years to come.

One other point emphasized by McDowell is that Internet users want ISPs to prioritize some bits (e.g., video streams) over others (e.g., e-mail). That gets to the question of what constitutes "reasonable" network management, and McDowell offers a useful way of thinking about this issue: what the commission should be concerned about is management techniques that are anti-competitive, rather than those that simply treat one type of traffic differently than another.

I think the commission should also be concerned about management techniques designed to make content, application or service providers pay more for the ability to reach their customers online. It's worth remembering that Web-based companies started lobbying for Net neutrality rules after executives at broadband companies complained about the bandwidth consumed by online video services. They warned that they would need to spend heavily to increase the capacity of their networks, and said that companies like YouTube (now a part of Google) should bear some of those costs. But YouTube isn't a "free rider" -- it has invested heavily in the servers and bandwidth needed to deliver its bits to its customers' ISPs. The problem for those ISPs is that their customers happen to demand a lot of bits from YouTube and other online content providers. In other words, the issue isn't what YouTube is supplying; it's what broadband customers are demanding. Is it really YouTube's or Netflix's or Sling's fault that ISPs are having trouble keeping their bandwidth promises to their customers?

The effect of these rules may very well be that ISPs look for solutions on the demand side of the equation, not the supply side. That could mean higher monthly fees or surcharges for those who are the heaviest users. And with so little competition among ISPs, it's reasonable to worry about gouging. On the other hand, having ISPs deploy a "fast lane" for content providers willing to pay extra for higher priority could be powerfully anti-competitive. Google can afford to pay extra, but can the start-up that wants to be the next YouTube? Universal Music Group could pay extra, but could an indie band? That's why focusing on the companies supplying bandwidth-intensive apps is more problematic than on the consumers demanding them. It's also why the commission's exploration of the "managed services" issue will be so contentious. These services are the ones that would be allowed into the fast lane, making them the exceptions that could swallow the rule.

Photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, announcing his Net neutrality principles in September. Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

A Zillion here, a Zillion there [UPDATED]

ZillionTV, online TV, over the top, cable TV, pay TV, TV EverywhereIt looks like the public will have to wait a bit longer for ZillionTV, but when it does arrive, it will be available in more places. CEO Mitchell Berman announced this morning that privately held ZillionTV Corp. had added a new element to its Internet-on-TV distribution strategy: In addition to offering its on-demand programming through Internet service providers, Zillion will serve consumers directly. To promote both approaches, Berman said the company is working with consumer electronics manufacturers to embed enabling technology in their Internet-enabled TV sets and set-top boxes (e.g., Blu-ray disc players). These devices won't become available until the second half of next year, however; nor does the company expect to move beyond trial deployments with ISPs this year.

In an interview earlier this week, Berman said ...

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DDOS attack slammed Twitter with 20 times normal traffic volume

Credit: ashpollock / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

NTT America, Twitter's Internet service provider, confirmed that the DDOS attack against Twitter has continued today, with huge waves of malicious requests crashing up against Twitter's now-activated defenses. The countermeasures seem to be working; on Friday evening, pages loaded on Twitter without an obvious lag. See earlier interview here.

An e-mail from Michael Wheeler, vice president of NTT America's Global IP Network, included the following update:

We can confirm that the attack has been ongoing and has varied in intensity. On Friday morning there was an increase in the intensity and the variables of the attack. At various times during the attack we have seen the levels of traffic rise between 15 and 20 times the normal traffic volume we have historically seen for Twitter.

Wheeler also expanded on Twitter's choice of security level, explaining that different types of business may require different levels of defense against such attacks:

Many Financial clients have regulatory requirements that require them to have certain levels of security, including DDoS related situations. In the case of Twitter, they are not required to maintain those same levels due to the nature of their business. Many clients use their own internal tools, external services, or a combination of services to address DDoS related attacks.

On the question of whether Twitter should have had a higher level of security protection, Wheeler said the following:

There is no way in hindsight to conclude what would or would not have minimized the impact of the attack due to the number of variables involved. Generally speaking, more security is better then less, but DDoS attacks vary in size and complexity so there is no way of knowing what may have lessened the impact after the fact.

-- David Sarno

Follow my variable-rate stream of tech and culture-related musings on Twitter: @dsarno


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