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Morality of Throttling a Local ISP? 640

Posted by kdawson
from the what-would-larry-do dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I work for a small (400 customers) local cable ISP. For the company, the ISP is only a small side business, so my whole line of expertise lies in other areas, but since I know the most about Linux and networking I've been stuck into the role of part-time sysadmin. In examining our backbone and customer base I've found out that we are oversubscribed around 70:1 between our customers' bandwidth and our pipe. I've gone to the boss and showed him the bandwidth graphs of us sitting up against the limit for the better part of the day, and instead of purchasing more bandwidth, he has asked me to start implementing traffic shaping and packet inspection against P2P users and other types of large downloaders. Because this is in a certain limited market, the customers really only have the choice between my ISP and dial-up. I'm struggling with the desire to give the customers I'm administering the best experience, and the desire to do what my boss wants. In my situation, what would you do?"
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Morality of Throttling a Local ISP?

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  • by seanadams.com (463190) * on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:27PM (#27204615) Homepage

    This is not a hard problem. You can not maintain a reasonable oversell ratio unless you have low average usage. Yes, one way to get that is throttling, but it's difficult to do that in an effective way that won't piss off your customers.

    What you should do is tell them they get 40G/mo or whatever, plus a usage fee above that, and let the customers throttle themselves if they want to. If you want to be a nice guy about it, you could give them the option of being auto-throttled or suspended if they approach the limit, so they don't get an unexpected bill. Of course whatever you do, you'll need to revise your terms of service.

    Voila, you maintain low pricing and good performance for everyone, because the p2p guys will police themselves now. If you have customers that routinely transmit hundreds of GB because they're a professional video editor or something, then they won't mind paying for the bandwidth.

    • by geekboy642 (799087) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:34PM (#27204667) Journal

      From the tone of the article, it doesn't sound at all like subby has the freedom to change the ToS or implement hard caps.

      In my opinion, the best solution is to strongly throttle large bandwidth usages (P2P, FTP and NNTP streams, etc) during the periods of near-capacity, and automatically relax the filtering during off hours. A simple email or letter to your subscribers to announce the change, and everybody will be happy. As a bonus, the notification of the changes will help to encourage your subscribers not to attempt to circumvent your filters, especially given that it's so easy for any modern downloading client to schedule for off-peak hours.

      • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:43PM (#27204759) Journal

        >>>it doesn't sound at all like subby has the freedom to change the ToS or implement hard caps.

        That depends. If the original contracts said "unlimited time" not unlimited gigabytes, then yes the ISP can move to a metered model. I'd implement relatively easy limits like "100 gigabytes maximum" with $1 for every gigabyte over the limit. This would catch the most egregious users, and any extra dollars can be used to add more lines to handle more people.

        Oh and to justify it to the boss, I'd cite the recent court case which states ISPs may not discriminate against P2P traffic. i.e. It's effectively illegal to filter traffic, but not illegal to implement metered usage such that customers reduce usage voluntarily.

        • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:28PM (#27205225)

          That depends. If the original contracts said "unlimited time" not unlimited gigabytes, then yes the ISP can move to a metered model. I'd implement relatively easy limits like "100 gigabytes maximum" with $1 for every gigabyte over the limit.

          This actually penalizes the guy who downloads a heck of a lot, but he times his downloads so they always run from 11 pm to 5 am.

          While it rewards all those folks who download a 10th that, but always max out the link from 4:30pm to 9:00pm, with P2P, and streaming download, at the same time all the other subscribers are trying to surf the web and get decent performance.

          Usage-based billing doesn't make any sense -- ISPs often get burstability pay for a CIR, to the 95th percentile.

          Consumers should too... That is, you should be able to burst your connection to download files, for certain amounts of time.

          Each subscriber should individually agree to how much bandwidth they get to use on a continuous basis, and how much, and how long they will be allowed to burst, before either being billed or capped.

          It shouldn't cost you, unless you stay bursted (I.E. max out your connection all the time during peak hours)

          And to be consumer friendly, they should provide better terms for off-peak hour time, to actually reduce the number of even normal downloaders.

          • by c0p0n (770852) <<copong> <at> <gmail.com>> on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:35AM (#27207963)

            You seem to live in a world in which every person is a geek and knows what you're talking about.

          • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Monday March 16, 2009 @05:02AM (#27208065)
            I still don't quite get it. What good is a 10Mbit connection if i can only average 1Mbit? I have a 2Mbit and i average in a high month 1.8Mbit. I don't need more as i don't mind waiting for the larger stuff. But i would be rather unhappy with a 2Mbit link were i am only suppose to average 200kbit or something.
            • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Monday March 16, 2009 @11:35AM (#27211995) Journal
              I still don't quite get it. What good is a 10Mbit connection if i can only average 1Mbit? I have a 2Mbit and i average in a high month 1.8Mbit. I don't need more as i don't mind waiting for the larger stuff. But i would be rather unhappy with a 2Mbit link were i am only suppose to average 200kbit or something.

              It's really easy to understand. The ISP business has been engaged in systematic fraud since the beginning. They sell what they cannot provide. In the beginning, shady characters who felt they would never get caught did it. Then people who didn't do it couldn't stay in business, so they either went out of business or did the same thing. Fast forward a few years, and now it's normal for the industry, and you get professionals sounding very technical as they go about explaining how it all works and how to use more technically complex tricks to allow ISPs to continue the behavior as though there was never anything wrong with it.

              But, at the end of the day, the ISPs are all engaged in garden variety fraud. Including the one that employs the original submitter of the story. They're not different from the guy who rents his cabin to 3 dozen different people for the summer, hoping that no more than one will show up at a time.

              In the long run, the entire society is going to pay dearly for having allowed this to happen.
        • by BikeHelmet (1437881) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:33PM (#27205269) Journal

          $1 per GB is a little steep, isn't it?

          These guys [teksavvy.com] only charge $0.10/GB.

          Your suggestion seems like the best way to go. Up here, Telus(big ISP) has caps at 10GB, 60GB, 100GB per month based on how much you're paying.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by LordKronos (470910)

            I haven't looked at the site you linked to, but my experience has been that hosts that offer really low per GB prices typically either A) only offer such a price with an already expensive base package where there is already a really nice profit, or B) host for a LOT of high bandwidth customers, and it's more like dealing in bulk. It might be that neither apply in this scenario (for a small ISP, I'd suspect not).

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by maxume (22995)

              Astraweb sells 25GB for $10 (that is their most expensive rate). They probably deal with some pretty serious volume, but they will meter that 25 GB across months.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ElectricRook (264648)

            $1/GB is really cheap for satellite ISP.

            I'm on wild blue, and pay $80 for 17GB a month.

            My daughters discovered video chat, and maxed us out again... Also cold weather causes poor antenna/amplifier performance =(

            I have two more options, Hughes and directcon. Directcon has really poor customer service.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by fractoid (1076465)
            My ISP (one of the better ones in Australia) charges $2.50/GB for additional data blocks purchased. WTB better broadband service. :(
            • by NoobixCube (1133473) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @11:45PM (#27206759) Journal

              One particular Australian ISP I was looking at, I forget who. It may have been Dodo or something, it always seems right to blame Dodo for these things, sold ridiculously low download caps (in the less than a gigabyte range) coupled with reasonable speeds (so as to very quickly eat the allotted cap up), and charged excess usage at 10c per megabyte. And they had the audacity to throttle usage after the cap was exceeded.

              I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you think your ISP might not be using lube when it fucks you, try spending some time in Australia.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by fractoid (1076465)
                That sounds like it might have been Dodo, back in the 256k days. Telstra also used to charge like a wounded bull for over-cap usage, and only implemented shaping in 2002-2003 iirc.

                TPG also springs to mind, not so much with the low quotas and hideous excess charges, but with overly punitive exit fee clauses... like signing users up for "no upfront cost" for a 24 month period, then not even bothering to activate the service, and when the user cancels the contract they're told to pay the rest of their 24 mo
              • by lazybeam (162300) on Monday March 16, 2009 @12:12AM (#27206885) Homepage

                The "most popular" Australian ISP (Telstra Big Pond) charges 15c per MB over the limit, and their cheapest plan only includes 200MB of transfers (up plus down) before excess charges happen. On 256kbps ADSL it isn't too bad, but the same plan is available on 10Mbps cable so you could be up for thousands of dollars excess! There are plans that have 12 or 20GB transfers before 64kbps shaping instead of excess fees. (I put "most popular" in quotes as many of their customers don't like them and would leave if there were alternatives or if they knew about them)

                Most ISPs use the "x GB then speed shaping" method. Most still have unmetered uploads.

                One former ISP used "Flat rate" in that during busy times the highest downloaders got throttled down, which I thought was a great idea but it is no longer available. The highest we ever got was 80GB in a 30 day period and the net was slow but still usable in peak times. Off-peak times was still full speed.

        • by astarf (1292110) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:04PM (#27205593) Homepage

          Oh and to justify it to the boss, I'd cite the recent court case which states ISPs may not discriminate against P2P traffic. i.e. It's effectively illegal to filter traffic, but not illegal to implement metered usage such that customers reduce usage voluntarily.

          Minor point, but it was an FCC hearing against Comcast [gigaom.com] not a court case. Part of the problem was that Comcast ran around terminating connections behind your back -- and without notifying customers via TOS or any other method.

          When it comes to throttling, seanadams had it exactly right: you have to provide the auto-throttle option so that people don't get slammed with a huge bill at the end of the month. Very few people want to sit around adding up their monthly bandwidth usage, so it's a good idea to start warning users as they approach the limit. Unless, of course, slamming people with a huge overage bill is part of your revenue-maximizing business model.

          • by MoFoQ (584566) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:22PM (#27206227)

            I thought the problem was also because of they way they did the dropping the connection (via a "reset" [arstechnica.com]); they "masqueraded" as someone else which is a no-no under the law.

            Here's a simple diagram:

            A is downloading from B.
            C (Comcast/ISP) "throttles" by telling A that it's B and makes the changes that way.
            Essentially, a "man-in-the-middle" situation.

            If Comcast was some poor sap, it would be in the federal pokey...hopefully without soap on a rope.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by digitalunity (19107)

              Your analogy would have been written more accurately like this:

              A - Peer
              B - Comcast, A's ISP
              C - Peer

              A and C are communicating through B. B doesn't like the traffic, so Comcast tells A it is C and to kindly please STFU we're done talking to each other.

              And you're right, if an individual did this, they'd be in prison by now. It's only ok because it is Comcast doing it to their own customers and this isn't misrepresentation, it's creative traffic management.

          • by sumdumass (711423)

            Here is what I don't get. Take Time Warner for instance, they advertise 3 and 6 meg always on high speed connections. When I buy their 6 meg always on connection, am I not purchasing a constant 6 megs divided between upload and download?

            If the answer is yes, the what right would they have by either changing the always on or the 6 meg connection on anyone? It seems to me that they sold someone 6 megs of internet access always for the time they paid their bill. If that results in customer using 700 gigs of da

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by RingDev (879105)

              The reason is simple, if you wanted to sell 5Mb service to 2000 people, and you wanted to be able to offer all 2000 people 5Mb at any moment in time, you would need a 10Gb connection to your provider. Which means you are looking at an OC192 or Sonnet-10 connection.

              Realistically though, you will never ever have all 2000 customers online at the exact same moment attempting to use their full 5Mb bandwidth.

              So while you would need an OC192 to provide the max cap, you can realistically offer everyone their 5Mb ba

        • by Mistlefoot (636417) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @11:42PM (#27206743)
          Metering almost positively requires Docsis compatible cable modems. For a business that runs cable as a sideline, as per the submission, I would guess there would be a reasonable chance they don't have the most up to date equipment. With 400 subscribers it's also difficult to implement many high cost options. Will setting up filtering actually cost more than providing more bandwidth? How cost effective is it (it's easy with docsis) different speed options (ie 512 down - for basic email/chatting etc., 5120 for the average user and maybe 10240 for high users, priced incrementally) 400 subscribers in a limited area - where the user base likely won't increase a large amount, isn't going to allow for many cost effective options in my opinion.
        • by Tuoqui (1091447) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @11:58PM (#27206837) Journal

          Well if he is looking at traffic shaping he should consider bumping priorities rather than heavy handed throttling. Just bump VOIP and HTTP(S) so they go first and wont get interfered with by bulk P2P transfers. This lets people 'at the keyboard' so to speak get priority over say big file transfers in the background.

          If you throttle heavily and/or block P2P then keep in mind that P2P packets that arent getting through are potentially being resent repeatedly. This will likely INCREASE network congestion as things get sent multiple times and possibly get dropped at the router rather than being passed along.

      • by bigcmoney (535532) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:01PM (#27204973) Homepage
        I run a similar sized WISP. All I do is use NFSEN to see who is using the bandwidth, and then give them a call. Almost all the time the customer's kids are doing the downloading, or they have a virus. This level of service really makes the customer appreciate doing business with you.
      • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:19PM (#27205125) Homepage Journal

        From the tone of the article, it doesn't sound at all like subby has the freedom to change the ToS or implement hard caps.

        That depends on how "limited" the service area actually is. If the customers only choice is between the author's ISP and dial-up, maybe they don't have that many sysadmins to choose from either.

        You will be suprised how often a good suggestion is taken, especially one that will keep customers relatively happy.

        The choices those consumers have may not always be so limited. Depending on your relationship with management, you might get heard. You never know unless you try. Don't mention "morality" though, because management doesn't know what that means. If you put it in terms of customer retention, you might end up as employee-of-the-month.

        Of course, all this depends on if your company is a locally owned independent or one of the big telecoms. If it's the latter and you really feel a moral quandary, your best bet is to get that resume polished up right away. There are a few businesses still run by decent people, and you might get lucky.

      • by subreality (157447) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:45PM (#27205957)

        In my opinion, the best solution is to strongly throttle large bandwidth usages (P2P, FTP and NNTP streams, etc) during the periods of near-capacity, and automatically relax the filtering during off hours.

        That's one way... Here's another:

        Instead of trying to choose which protocols are heaviest usage, traffic shape people based on what the actual criteria that you care about is: Too much overall usage over long periods.

        In Linux terms, set up a HTB with a queue for every customer. Set the base rate to whatever your backbone speed is (1/70th of the customer's line rate), the ceil rate to their line rate, and give them a nice big bucket - say, 120 seconds times their line rate.

        Then, people who are normal users - web surfing, downloading an occasional email attachment, etc - will go full bore, any time they want it. People who are bittorrenting will go full speed for a couple minutes, and then decrease down to whatever bandwidth is available. At night, if there's a lot of backbone free, it'll go fast. At 7 PM, they get best effort on whatever is available.

        This is a very simplified example. You could additionally shape them so that their web and email will take priority over bittorrent when they're at the bottom of their token bucket, or other fine tuning...

        The basic message I'd like to get across is: you don't have to shape based on protocol, because you care about the usage, not the protocol. Just shape based on usage, and let them work out which protocols they want to use.

        • by r00t (33219) on Monday March 16, 2009 @12:23AM (#27206925) Journal

          IP packets let the sender specify which ones are important, via the QoS info. If I'm sending real-time game traffic and a big giant file, I want you to give priority to the game.

          Ideally you both respect my QoS info and let me override that via a nice web admin interface that lets me specify ports that are important to me.

          All of this is subject to my per-user throttling of course. You use it to select which of my packets get dropped first, not the number of my packets that get dropped.

      • by Lesrahpem (687242) <.moc.egnuolknilpu. .ta. .handai.> on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:28AM (#27209155) Homepage
        Have you considered any other means of reducing network load? For example, Squid [squid-cache.org]? A significant portion of your traffic is likely your users visiting the same content-rich websites, like MySpace, Facebook, Youtube, etc. If you can locally cache this content (especially the Flash stuff) you'll probably see a large drop in load.
    • by volsung (378) <stan@mtrr.org> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:34PM (#27204671)
      Amen, but to add to this: If you are going to institute some kind of usage billing, it is *absolutely* critical you give people the tools to monitor their usage. At a minimum, there should be a web page that customers can view their current usage (no more than 24 hours old) relative to the quota. For bonus points, give people the ability to get email updates when they pass predefined levels, or if their one-day usage exceeds some value.
      • Add a free period (Score:5, Insightful)

        by grahamsz (150076) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:44PM (#27204763) Homepage Journal

        I had a situation once where my bandwidth was metering during regular hours but free from midnight - 7am. Any smart heavy user will set up their downloads to happen during the free period and take the load off the network during peak hours. I've never understood why more ISPs don't do that.

        If you just tell people they have a 40G cap then they'll feel entitled to use it whenever they want, and you really can't argue with that.

    • by Cimexus (1355033) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:46PM (#27204803)

      Yep - that's how they do it here in Australia and despite all the flak we cop on Slashdot about our metered ISP accounts, the user-pays system actually avoids a lot of the problems you see with ISPs overseas.

      - P2P throttling? Not here.
      - Artificial speed shaping or restrictions. Not here, unless you surpass your monthly limit on a flat rate plan.
      - Forbidding servers on residential connections? Not here.
      - Deep packet inspection and other traffic manipulation? Not here.
      - Bad contention ratios. Not here (on the good ISPs at least).

      The 70:1 contention ratio in the summary is pretty shocking ... good ISPs here (iiNet, Internode etc) have 10:1 or less and buy more bandwidth proactively, before they actually need it. They can afford to do that, and keep their links running at 50-70% capacity, BECAUSE it's a user pays system. Additional bandwidth use means more revenue for the ISP and hence it's attractive to them to keep their pipes un-congested and fast.

      The other advantage is that light users can pay pretty small amounts for a basic connection. My parents just use email and so I put them on a TINY 1GB per month plan. They never even use more than half of that, and the cost savings are significant (consider that they pay only 20 bucks a month, but larger plans of 50, 100, 200 GB per month cost 60-100 bucks).

      So if you absolutely cannot upgrade your links, the "bill, don't throttle" approach is more attractive. It's less work than setting up packet shaping infrastructure and rules, won't affect the large majority of your customers, and will make sure that top 5% of leechers keep their habit under control a bit better (or pay for a higher account, which means more money for you!).

      Oh and one last thing. Don't bill for excess usage - just shape their connection. Because if Joe Sixpack gets a virus and their connection downloads 100s of GB without their knowledge, they are not going to want a huge bill. The way most ISPs do it in Australia is after you reach your monthly limit (say, 80 GB at 24 Mbps), they'll shape your traffic to a slower speed (e.g. 128 kbps). That's still fast enough to browse the web and stuff, but will ease backhaul congestion due to P2P etc.

      • by PhoenixAtlantios (991132) * on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:16PM (#27205097)

        P2P throttling? Not here.

        Exetel do [whirlpool.net.au], and we know of this only because they've been vocal about it; other ISPs may do it with more subtlety.

        Forbidding servers on residential connections? Not here.

        The Whirlpool broadband survey 2008 [whirlpool.net.au] disagrees (search for "not allowed to run server", optus certainly restricts it).

        So while the majority of ISPs don't do it, you shouldn't make out that it's all sunshine and roses in bandwidth cap land; some of the larger ISPs (Telstra and Optus) measure both uploads as well as downloads when considering your monthly bandwidth cap too (which seems to be an effective way to reduce p2p since you'll hit your cap that much faster by "giving back").

        I agree that shaping connections rather than billing for excess usage makes more sense for ADSL/Cable connections though; it's much less daunting to get throttled as opposed to being charged extra. Internode have implemented a "Data Block" system that allows you to purchase chunks of bandwidth to extend your monthly cap in a pinch if you're about to get throttled (i.e. it isn't cost effective to do regularly) which could be worth looking into later on.

        One more thing, if you do implement caps you'd want to look into some sort of monthly usage meter that's easily accessible to your customers. Net Usage Item [iau5.com] is an example of a Firefox addon that tracks usage from various ISPs that helps people avoid overrunning their caps.

    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:54PM (#27204885) Homepage Journal

      I agree, but with the caveat that you have to do what your boss tells you to do. By all means, present this idea to the boss, but be absolutely sure that you are complying with the requirements of the job you are assigned: after all, in this economy, you do not want to give your boss a reason to fire you.

      You will definitely have to consult your boss about this, and you would be remiss in not telling your boss to send the TOS to your company's attorney and have him advise on the legalities regarding whatever plan you and your boss ends up deciding on. You don't want your company to get sued and you don't want anyone to say it's your fault because that would be another reason you might get fired.

      In the end, look over the TOS, and if your boss asked you to shape it and shaping doesn't meet with the TOS, by all means CYA and ask your boss to send his request to you in writing. Preferrably signed. Digitally signed e-mail might be okay, too. Just make sure you have some proof of what you were ordered to do, because you want to be sure if there is any fallout from the shaping that you can prove you were just doing as ordered.

      It bears repeating so I'll say it again: always CYA.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:27PM (#27205217) Homepage Journal

        be absolutely sure that you are complying with the requirements of the job you are assigned: after all, in this economy, you do not want to give your boss a reason to fire you.

        Listen to morgan. He's absolutely right.

        If you do decide to bring this issue to your supervisors, try to put it in terms of customer retention or make up some stuff about how they can save money. Most management doesn't know any better.

        But by all means do NOT mention morality. Management is trained to be suspicious of such things, and you'll be on the shit list. Don't mention anything about "providing good service" either. That's a sure sign of weakness to them and you'll be out of a job. It's got to be dollars and cents or at best they'll ignore you.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by causality (777677)

          But by all means do NOT mention morality. Management is trained to be suspicious of such things, and you'll be on the shit list.

          That part got my attention. May I ask what you mean when you say that they are trained to be suspicious of such things? Is this actually a component of formal training such as business classes or leadership seminars? Or is it more of a situation where it's unfortunate that lots of people who are actually up to no good have been known to such excuses to cover up their wrongdoing

    • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:19PM (#27205131)

      There's really very little moral question here, you are selling a service. The quality of the bandwidth you use, and whether the same amount of bandwidth is available in bulk heavy usage, for bulk file transfers, as for normal, expected usage patterns, is your call as an ISP.

      And for the most part ISPs don't buy a bit of internet bandwidth, for every bit of subscriber bandwidth. This practice is not oversubscription (per se), you should calculate the expected usage patterns for your average subscriber, and multiply by your total number of subscribers, and add 'safety' factors for flash crowds; as for P2P applications and "bulk data transfers", you should do the math there as well, and determine, what proportions of your traffic are P2p transfers.

      Keeping usage of heavy users under reasonable control just as much about providing everyone a quality service, as it is about 'saving on bandwidth bills' -- because, even if you add more bandwidth, downloaders will manage to eat it, if you don't put something in place.

      And ISPs all over the country are taking measures to limit P2P's usage, so a few users don't get to hog all the network resources, or to overutilize.

      This is not so much a justification based on the theory "everyone is doing it", but more a justification based on "your consumers probably expect you to do this" (do your best to block, prevent, or control, excessive usages from other subscribers that would degrade their services)

      What you should do is tell them they get 40G/mo or whatever, plus a usage fee above that, and let the customers throttle themselves if they want to....

      He only has 400 customers. There's not enough play here to provision capacity on demand, if a few users want to heavily use the service, he may need to get commitments for this to be affordable.

      They can stay below those monthly limits and still cause major problems, if they happen to all be on at the same time fully utilizing their pipe fairly continuously.

      Also, consumers will rightly be concerned about the possibility of malware or unwanted DoS attacks artificially inflating their bandwidth bill.

      There are a lot of good things to be said for using technologies like NBAR and policing to reduce the flow of unwanted traffic.

      Actual general shaping is not recommended, as it will very possibly degrade proper operation of the service, for non-bandwidth-hungry users.

  • You're stuck. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by numbski (515011) <numbski@hksilv e r .net> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:31PM (#27204641) Homepage Journal

    Here's the thing - you have no choice. Do the shaping.

    That said - form a compelling argument for doing the right thing, and present that to your boss. Don't defy him, but give him a reason to reconsider. In the meantime, do as you're told. You can always undo shaping. Don't screw your employment in the interim.

    • Re:You're stuck. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ssj152 (803281) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:39PM (#27204717) Journal
      Better read the current terms of service first - yanking the rug before changing the terms of service frequently leads to lawsuits. Be nice to the pointy-haired one, but point out the likelihood of legal problems here. Also, I liked the first responder 'seanadams' suggestion as an actual solution - if there is no way to actually get the bandwidth upped.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Agree 100%. You're getting paid for this work. It doesn't matter how much you admire Casper the Friendly Geek, it's neither your right nor your job to contradict your boss's decisions. If your customers don't like the service, they'll find alternatives or drop his service, and then he'll either deal with the revenue loss or improve.

      Make the business case for it. Feel free to refuse to do anything actually unethical or illegal that he asks you to do. This is neither, so suck it up. Or, alternately; you're su

    • BS. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by msauve (701917) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:18PM (#27205117)
      He has no choice but to honor the contract they've made with customers.

      If, as most cable companies do, they've contracted to provide "unlimited" service, at "xx Mbps rate", then that's what they need to provide.

      If such is the case, then throttling anyone is fraud.
      • I've never seen a cable-ISP contract that provided service at a specified rate in Mbps. You can get those contracts as a business user, but they're not the standard ones home users have. Usually home contracts say something along the lines of "up to xx Mbps; actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed".

      • Re:BS. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Eskarel (565631) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:49PM (#27205423)

        I've never seen a single contract for residential internet that provided "unlimited service" at "xx Mbps", every single one I've ever seen is "up to xx Mbps", the contract isn't going to help here.

        The solution for better or for worse is for the US to implement download caps like the rest of the world. It'll be unpopular and it'll have disadvantages, but laying cable still costs money and the current all you can eat payment schemes just don't work.

        • Re:BS. (Score:5, Informative)

          by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000.yahoo@com> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:46PM (#27206415)

          The solution for better or for worse is for the US to implement download caps like the rest of the world. It'll be unpopular and it'll have disadvantages, but laying cable still costs money and the current all you can eat payment schemes just don't work.

          No, the solution is for broadband providers to do what they've already gotten billions of taxpayer dollars to do but didn't, build out broadband. These companies are trying to double dip, first take taxpayer money then bill customers more.

          Falcon

  • Quit and... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    start my own ISP, reselling third party bandwidth. If the market is that limited and poorly serviced, there is money to be made by providing a decent service. You will be happier and as the owner you also stand to make more money.
  • by Bandman (86149) <.bandman. .at. .gmail.com.> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:34PM (#27204673) Homepage

    Petition for your boss to do the right thing.

    While you're petitioning, do what your boss tells you.

    If what your boss tells you to do is unethical, quit, and tell him why in your resignation letter.

    • by MeanMF (631837) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:21PM (#27205139) Homepage
      Exactly... If there's a business case for buying more bandwidth, then write it up and show it to the boss. Are people dropping the service because they're fed up with slow speeds? Are there people who would be willing to pay more for higher bandwidth? Do the customers even notice or care that speeds are slow at times? Is 90% of the bandwidth being used up by 1% of the customers? If you don't know the answers to these questions, whining to the boss isn't going to get you anywhere.
  • How does your upstream contracts work? You could try and see if you can buy traffic per 95th percentile with a commit instead if you need the burst capacity . Then throttle the worst offenders if you notice your 95th percentile going over your commit.
  • by TheSunborn (68004) <tiller&daimi,au,dk> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:44PM (#27204765)

    Is throttling really cheaper?

    Have you tried to compare the price of just buying more bandwidth with what it will cost you to setup and maintain the packed shaping?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by David E. Smith (4570)

      Throttling is dirt-cheap.

      I work for an ISP that's probably comparable (wireless, so each connection is slower than a cable connection, but there's more of them). If you want to roll your own stuff, a juicy PC with two network cards and some layer-7 rules should be doable for under $1000.

      You can also buy one of these [mikrotikrouter.com], and configure it to do the shaping for about $1500, if you want a sexy rackmount unit and support.

      They work quite well for basically everything except encrypted BitTorrent (and I'm sure that's

  • So long as you're not singling them out by content or otherwise subjecting them to your (your boss's, your company's) conflicts of interest, then I think you're fine. Just follow some of the other fine suggestions here to do it responsibly.

  • Am I the only one who read the title and had an image of strangling a local ISP executive?

    Unfortunately, my "local" ISP choices are Time Warner and AT&T, and, despite the miserable service, their executives are out of my reach.

  • by Computershack (1143409) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:45PM (#27204793)
    You honestly know in your heart that most of the P2P traffic is illegal so throttle it BUT only implement the throttling between the hours of say, 8am to 10pm or midnight. Send out an email to all customers stating that due to the abuse of a minority of users, P2P throttling will take place between the hours of 8am to 12 Midnight to ensure a high level of service to other users.

    The P2P boys will quickly figure out what is going on and they can set their clients to download from Midnight to 8am. That way, there's plenty of bandwidth when Joe Average wants to check their Facebook and when businesses are operating and the bandwidth through the night which is mostly unused is utilised better. Everyone wins.

    • by z0idberg (888892) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:11PM (#27205059)

      due to the abuse of a minority of users,

      If they signed for and are paying for unlimited internet access then where exactly does the abuse part come into it?

    • by meerling (1487879) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:21PM (#27205151)
      As they don't know what the P2P traffic is, you can't say it's illegal. Statistically, it probably is violating a copyright, but that isn't sufficient justification for singling out the P2P traffic alone. That would be like sending everyone in your city with a drivers license a traffic ticket, because you just know that virtually all of them will speed, roll through a stop sign, or commit some other traffic violation this year.
      Besides, he didn't even mention what kind of traffic was going on during peak hours, just that the company is (my interpretation) screwing customers by oversubscribing them 70:1 (his statement).
      It's possible that their biggest traffic spike is youtubers. Until someone does an analysis, you just won't know.
  • by Ron Bennett (14590) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:46PM (#27204807) Homepage

    For a 400 user ISP, there is presumably only a dozen or so high traffic users...

    Privately, encourage them to shift some of their activity to off times, such as late morning and middle of the night - explain to them it will help other users, plus help them too in they'll get better speed while helping to keep prices low.

    If not enough voluntary compliance, then try enabling aggressive throttling / shaping during day / evening, but allow unthrottled speed during off-hours for high traffic users.

    Presuming the ISP has access to multiple providers, then another option to consider is evaluating how much the ISP is paying for bandwidth - see if there are better options and/or if contracts can be renegotiated.

    Ron

  • Or... Do nothing. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SpazmodeusG (1334705) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:48PM (#27204825)
    You don't want to punish customers for how much they download so much as when they download.
    The guy who downloads 100Gb overnight when no one else is online? He isn't a problem.
    The 100 users who all connect and download from together at peak hour? They are the problem.

    So you want to allow people who don't use the net when everyone else is using it full-speed access. And you want those who use the net at peak hour to be slowed down.

    The way to acheive this?
    Do nothing and let congestion shape them.
  • by hessian (467078) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:51PM (#27204849) Homepage Journal

    Morality is a tool for the herd to feel more important than their leaders. Instead, get pragmatic: how can you make this business work for most people?

    You probably want heavy downloaders to use another service, anyway. You might even consider setting up two plans, one for ueber-users and one for normal users.

    However, I would prioritize traffic. Email, web, SSH, et al come first; after that, all p2p protocols in order of usefulness.

    You need to define your business audience. If it's people who are going to check the mail and web surf, and 5% of your customers are p2p users, cut out the p2p users and focus on the people you want to serve.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      Morality is a tool for the herd to feel more important than their leaders.

      Who would have guessed that Dick Cheney was posting on slashdot?

  • by lancejjj (924211)

    Your boss understands his customers and the contracts in place. Your boss understands the political consequences of changing his service under the feet of his existing customers. Your boss has lawyers that understand the legal ramifications of his decisions.

    If this is an error in judgement, his customers will let him know by either (1) suing him, or (2) withholding payment, or (3) leaving the service. All three mean less revenue for him no matter the outcome.

    Your job is to do what he asks within the la

  • For the company, the ISP is only a small side business...

    This is not an ISP problem; but a business problem. How does maintaining a small ISP enhance the primary business? Can expanding the ISP business enhance the primary business? Will implementing rate limiting and traffic shaping bring unwanted negative attention to the primary business? Can you make a business case to the owners indicating costs and profits for not implementing traffic shaping?

    This is not a technical problem. If the you cannot answ

  • by itzdandy (183397) <dandensonNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @07:58PM (#27204939) Homepage

    Im wondering what you have for backbone that you are 70:1 oversubscribed. If you deploy 768/256 connections with 400 customers sounds like a whopping 3 T1 lines (~4.5Mb/s). if you do a more standard 1.5MB thats 6 T1 lines(~9Mb/s).

    Maybe you should look at your upstream provider and see if you can get a fractional T3 to replace the T1s if my math is anywhere near correct. You will likely have a longer contract to sign but you may be able to pull in 10Mb/s for less than you currently pay. Then you could try to match the current expense.

    There are other ways to trim back your backbone usage. Consider a cluster of transparent proxy servers. You can get pretty aggressive with the cacheing mechanise in squid and you can easily balance the cluster with DNS and not have to worry about session awareness as clients also cache DNS temorarily so each client will use the same proxy for their browsing session.

    Certainly some sort of QoS will work for you and lessen the need to directly throttle.

    If you just throw some proxying in there and give http and https higher priority and do some packet inspection to sniff out the P2P traffic and drop it down a level you will put off the inevitable need to grow your bandwidth for a while.

    if my math is correct on 1.5Mb/s cable, you look like you have a per users upstream cost of just $7.50 each. That is pretty low. Too low.

  • 400 / 70 = what? (Score:4, Informative)

    by TinBromide (921574) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:09PM (#27205033)
    400 divided by 70 = 5.71.

    I have no problem with you scheduling low-latency traffic over filesharing traffic, filtering, or whatever, but it seems a little short-sighted that it only takes 5.71 users to completely muck up your network. (I.E if you sell 1mbit connections, you could "theoretically" support 420 customers on a 6mibt pipe (6*70=420 at a 70:1 oversell ratio).
  • by MrKaos (858439) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:09PM (#27205035) Journal
    on your network. I mean if you can identify the most popular stuff that they want and cache it within your network you could reduce your upstream bandwidth costs.

    I think P2P is servers used this way are a great tool helping ISP's reduce their upstream bandwidth costs. My ISP does it and, for example, has mirrors of Fedora and Ubuntu update repositories plus a whole library of popular downloads that I don't get charged for if I use their servers to download (and it's faster too). Furthermore their servers will download files via P2P and make that available to all their other users.

  • Morality?? HA! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iminplaya (723125) <iminplaya.gmail@com> on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:11PM (#27205055) Journal

    There is no morality for throttling. It's done for either technical or business reasons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Adrian Lopez (2615)

      Are you saying that an act is not immoral so long as it's done for "technical or business reasons"?

      Say I'm the CEO of a nationwide cable TV provider that's afraid of competition from streaming media. I decide, for business reasons, to throttle all streaming media connections to the point that they are useless, unless the content providers pay me $$$ not to throttle them. You'd call it a "business decision", while I'd call it an immoral act. Whether or not I am right, there's nothing about it being a busines

  • by davmoo (63521) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:12PM (#27205065)

    What would I do? I'd start by doing what the boss says. This is a really bad time to have to look for employment elsewhere. If you don't do what the boss says, customers of your former employer are not going to start sending you money to live on because you did the "right" thing but lost your job.

    Then after things have been at least temporarily taken care of, research better alternatives and present them to your boss.

  • The Answer: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:32PM (#27205261)
    The answer to this, and many such sticky situations in IT, is to update your resume` and leave town.

    The way I see it, you're screwed if you throttle, and you're screwed if you don't throttle. Some of the solutions given sound good and well on paper. But then again, so does communism.
  • Legal loophole.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s0litaire (1205168) * on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:33PM (#27205263)
    Check the contract your customers sign. there's usually (if the lawyer who wrote it up was worth his salt) would have a clause in the contract stating "The ISP can change he terms of the contract with 30 days notice." or words to that effect. All the OP needs to do is set up a mail shot to all subscribers telling them of the changes to the contract will come into force in 30 days and wait..... Then dump all the complaints on the boss's desk. The reality of him loosing about 10%-20% (pulled out of the air guestamate) of the customers might make him rethink and that's when you suggest a few alternatives (Just make sure you do a lot of fact finding and homework on the issues before you talk to the boss).
  • by GrpA (691294) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @08:56PM (#27205503)

    Easy solution... I did something like this a long time ago.

    We used to split our upstream into "Priority" and "Non-priority" and all users went into "Non-Priority"

    When we gave them a real-time "price" meter... It had a button and a small display that showed how much your bill was for the month.

    Use the service at non-priority and the $$$ ticked over slowly.

    But hit the "Turbo" button, it added your IPs to the priority stream and the $$$ scream over and you get a big speed boost. Great for businesses who used it.

    We only ever tried it in beta while we had significant oversubscription due to limited availability of bandwidth at the time, but we noticed a few strange effects.

    First, people just liked pressing the button. They would go on, off, on, off while waiting for anything.

    Second, it was instant gratification - you hit th e button and your download speed goes straight up... Very effective and you know it's going faster because the $$$ tick over faster.

    Thirdly, the level of satisfaction was directly influenced by the speed the $$$ ticked over... We accidently released a buggy version under Beta where the $$$ ticked over at ten times the rate.

    It turned out to be the most popular and people started requesting it after we fixed the bug in the subsequent version... Seems that if they got charged more, the mental connection was that it was faster.

    Anyway, then bandwidth prices came down and we just got more bandwidth, and all the beta testers moaned when we turned off their turbo buttons...

    We weren't actually charging the beta testers for the button at the time, but they were all willing to pay for the service, because they loved being able to see at all times (through a small widget-like interface) exactly what they were spending.

    GrpA

  • by dAzED1 (33635) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:23PM (#27205783) Homepage Journal

    you are having a *moral* problem with throttling p2p traffic? Huh?

    Oh sure, mod me troll, and yeah, it's cliche', but a business has to play statistics and look at trends. The overwhelming majority of people using p2p for *legit* things aren't using it for such things day in and day out; they're torrenting a fedora dvd, or something like that. That's fine, works, etc. But if you see someone with a constant stream day in and day out...

    ...that person, on a general level, you feel morally obligated to protect? Really?

    There are plenty of valid uses for p2p. Certainly. Just assume that's not the people who your boss is after; it shouldn't be difficult to determine the difference.

  • What to do (Score:3, Informative)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @09:28PM (#27205813) Homepage

    In my situation, what would you do?

    First, at 70:1 oversubscription there is no bandwidth shaping policy which will improve the user experience, so you'll piss off the top 10% of your users without making the other 90% any happier.

    I'd explain to the boss that the accepted norm for residential oversubscription is 10:1 and that oversubscription rates in excess of 20:1 flat out don't work. You either need to increase your system bandwidth reduce your subscriber bandwidth. In other words, you either buy more T1s at the head end or you drop those 5 meg lines to 768kbps and be honest about it.

    Next, implement traffic shaping for ports other than UDP 53, TCP 22, 25, 80 and 443 during the prime time hours on your graph. You'll piss off the torrent freaks in the top 10%, but oh well.

  • by Illusion (1309) on Sunday March 15, 2009 @10:41PM (#27206387) Homepage

    Your details are a bit vague, but let's pretend "your pipe" is a single DS3 (45 megabits) out in the boonies somewhere and you are offering a mix of plans that average out to 7.8 megabits per customer (400 * 7.8 / 70 = 44.5).

    Assuming you are in the US, 45 megabits of transit is unlikely to cost you more than ~$2k/month ($50/megabit transit is easy to come by, you can do way better if you shop and have access to many carriers), but due to the amazing power of phone company pricing, the DS3 to carry it could easily run $10k-40k/month depending on how far out of a major city you are. (Within a major city, DS3s are closer to $3k/month.) Let's use the low end of that range and call it $10000/mo for the DS3 and $2000/mo for the bandwidth, or $12000/mo total for 45 megabits or your total cost of ~$267/megabit.

    If your customers were to demand no oversubscription (as most Slashdotters seem to), delivering a 10 meg cable connection would therefore cost you $2670/month to deliver to your customers. At standard retail markup (including maintaining the cable lines, buying routers, paying rent, paying salaries, etc) of ~2x, let's call it $5k/month per customer. This poses a problem, since no residential customer will pay $5k/month.

    If you work it from the other angle, starting from what your customers will pay, let's pretend they are comfortable paying $80/month for their 10 meg cable connection. (This is high if they were in a city, but if this is their only option vs dialup, they'll buy it anyway.) Assuming you have some overhead and only half that can pay for bandwidth, you have $40/month for 10 megabits or $4/megabit.

    How do you reconcile that your customers will only pay $4/megabit when your costs are $267/megabit? The magic of oversubscription.

    These customers need to be willing to live with the idea that they are expected, on average, to use only 143Kbit/sec on their 10 meg pipe. If on average they want more than that, they have to be willing to pay for it, otherwise the ISP is just going to fold, and they can go back to dialup.

    For some reason, Slashdotters see this as evil. Is it? How else can you make the numbers work? (Most of these numbers are ballpark since the posters details were so vague, but they real-ish.)

  • by DarkRecluse (231992) on Monday March 16, 2009 @01:24AM (#27207191)
    I think you need to make sure the traffic you are seeing is actually P2P. I would highly doubt it given your subscriber to bandwidth ratio. The majority of "normal" long flow traffic is actually http. Mostly flash video or http downloads. That said, you have such a high ratio that it's possible its not even downloads hitting up against your cap. If you have as flat a usage pattern as you say you have, it likely already sucks to be your customer doing anything at all at peak times. People would do better on dial-up....at least it would be consistent and they wouldn't get stuck with nil at certain intervals.

    Confirm you have a P2P problem before you start shaping. If you tell your boss the traffic is mostly http no amount of packetshaping is going to fix this problem to anyone's satisfaction(unless it actually is all http downloads).

    Since you're on a tight budget already, I recommend running nTop on a box connected to a mirror or span port. That would be an easy way to determine what's actually going on.

    When presented with the fact that shaping is pointless your boss will either buy more bandwidth or do nothing at all. Either way you aren't forced to shape. If he chooses the second option your customers should make him uncomfortable or fix the problem altogether by moving to dial-up.
  • by WarwickRyan (780794) on Monday March 16, 2009 @01:45AM (#27207275)

    A contention ratio of 70-1 is really high. What exactly are you selling your customers?

    Most ISPs around my part run on an contention ratio of between 20-1 and 50-1. In practise it sits closer to the 20-1 than the 50-1. At 70-1 I'm not surprised that the pipe's constantly full: it's twice what it should be.

    Unless, of course, you're selling an 'lite' package. But as you've got an monopoly, it sounds like you're probably selling an 'lite' package at 'premium' prices.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Monday March 16, 2009 @04:11AM (#27207855)
    If this is as described a small ISP with 400 customers whose bandwidth use is right at the limit most of the time, then throttling is already implemented. Automatically. By the ISPs upstream provider. So if customers would be unhappy because of throttling, then they are unhappy already. If there are contract problems because unlimited service was promised, then these contract problems are already there.

    And as described, this is a small sideline of the companies business, so anything that will keep their lawyers busy, like contract changes, won't fly. Anything that is a major investment most likely won't fly. The only thing that could fly is anything that either makes money, or significantly improves the reputation of the company which could have other positive side effects.

    Since Megabits are limited in this situation, his boss is absolutely right that the only thing he can do is to maximise the number of _happy_ customers. And that would be maximised by throttling the heavy users, giviing low bandwidth users fast access whenever they need it.

    From the user's point of view: As a group, they pay 400x dollars per month to the ISP, who for that money gives them a total bandwidth with some limit. As a group, they don't want to include anyone who uses tons more than their fair 1/400th share.
  • by AigariusDebian (721386) <.gro.naibed. .ta. .suiragia.> on Monday March 16, 2009 @05:52AM (#27208257) Homepage

    Shape, not throttle. If done correctly shaping is what makes a difference between a good ISP and a great ISP. It is not a problem to detect P2P traffic and shape it to a lower priority, provided that you shape important traffic as high priority - ACK's, Skype voice, game traffic (WoW, CS, ...), first 100k of any HTTP or HTTPS connection, SSH, ...

    As a power user it is not that critically important that my torrents only come at 16kb/s during the day if my web, games and IM apps are snappy, but I would like to have the torrents saturate the pipe during off-peak.

    Also, hard caps are overrated - you don't pay per Gb, why should we? Just prioritise traffic correctly and everyone will be happy.

  • Nah man... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phatslaab (1046786) on Monday March 16, 2009 @10:06AM (#27210425)
    In this current economic environment are you really surprised they are asking you to throttle instead of paying for bigger pipes? It is not your moral duty to ensure that people get the best internet experience. You do what you have to do to enforce your company goals and standards within the situation you've been given and ensure that they don't step across your moral standard - ie. lying, cheating, murder, etc. (If that is your particular moral standard. I once knew of a man who killed his wife yet felt morally bound to OSS for some reason. Hmmmm...) To throttle or not to throttle has little to do with your own morality.
  • FAP (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pegdhcp (1158827) on Monday March 16, 2009 @12:49PM (#27213433)
    Hi;

    You probably would not see this post as it is hugging the bottom of a long pile of messages, but here are my two cents:

    In small scale networks, as few as five to ten over utilizing customers can bring the whole structure to its knees. From ethical perspective, it is your duty to keep network as operational as possible for the whole customer base. So that it is OK in my book to shape traffic as long as you keep it as fair as possible for your customers' benefit. Also it is important to back your traffic shaping with a solid mathematical model, as some (usually below 1%) of your customers can complain, and even can claim that you are stealing their capacity...

    FAP (Fair Access Policy) is a rolling average, leaky bucket traffic shaping algorithm. We are using HNS (Hughes Network Systems) implementation with great success for five years. As you are a cable operator HNS solution would not work for you, however it is well documented (by public, in public domain. HNS' own documentation sucks). If you ignore customer complaints about HNS services in USA (problem there is not FAP mechanism, but very tight parameters set by HNS operations team) and concentrate on the system you would learn a great deal about traffic shaping that is adapted to real life conditions.

    As you would need an implementation to use, a single layer FAP (HNS implementation permits three layers) can be put in place by using basic traffic shaping parameters in Cisco. For multi layered approach, you can use a Linux firewall. If you have money to spend on this, Allot [allot.com] traffic shapers are very good Linux based devices.

    Regards

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