CableLabs Floats Bandwidth-On-Demand Concept

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Pigs eating too much at the Internet trough?

CableLabs has sketched out a system that would let cable customers tell their providers when they want more bandwidth — or less — and pay more (or less) accordingly.

As Cable Digital News‘ Jeff Baumgartner reports today, CableLabs last month quietly posted a document on its Web site, describing a “method for dynamic control of per-flow bandwidth preemption.”

“When the customer traffic is placed into an enhanced state and the operator experiences congestion, the operator will preempt traffic from lower-priority flows until congestion is alleviated,” the three-page document says.

CableLabs may apply for a patent on the method, according to CDN, and the publication noted that it’s unusual for inventors to publish material if they’re later intending to seek patent protection. On the other hand, CableLabs may be looking to establish “prior art” to fend off others who may try to patent systems along the same lines.

The cable consortium said the invention was developed during a brainstorming session on how to deal with the congestion caused by peer-to-peer traffic. “This invention gives customers more flexibility in establishing Internet service,” CableLabs said. “For example, customers may select a baseline service for Web surfing, but may purchase enhanced service for movie downloads.”

Conversely, customers using P2P applications may select a lower-priority service that offers high bandwidth at a low price, “but with a high likelihood of preemption,” CableLabs suggested.

The idea of user-controlled prioritization is not totally new; it has been promoted by several bandwidth-management infrastructure firms like Camiant, Sandvine, Arbor Networks and Procera Networks.

In any case, it could be a very elegant solution to what has been an explosive public-relations issue. Recall that Comcast was lambasted for throttling back P2P applications in an attempt to control congestion on its network. After the FCC issued an order demanding Comcast stop the practice, the MSO moved to a consumption-based bandwidth-throttling system.

Meanwhile, Cox is testing a system that would prioritize different applications based on whether they’re time-sensitive. But activist groups like Free Press oppose this approach, complaining that it could lead to a “balkanization” of the Internet — or worse, as Free Press yesterday rather absurdly highlighted the Iranian government’s use of deep packet inspection to suppress dissidents and warned that U.S. operators could do the same. (See The Evil That Routers Do.)

Giving users a way to signal they want more or less bandwidth — the fundamental concept underyling consumption-based billing, by the way — would seem to address any concerns that an ISP was twiddling bandwidth knobs in any way that would be deemed unfair.

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