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AT&T Embraces BitTorrent, Considers Usage-Based Pricing 279

Posted by Soulskill
from the waving-the-gray-flag dept.
Wired is running a story about AT&T's chief technical officer, John Donovan. He contrasts his view of BitTorrent and P2P in general against the controversial policies adopted by other ISPs. Donovan also explains why AT&T is considering usage-based pricing, citing the cost of network upgrades which only affect a small number of users. AT&T is expected to test the new pricing scheme later this year, which should give them plenty of time to see how Time Warner's customers respond to the idea. "'I don't view any of our customers, under any circumstances, as pirates -- I view them as users,' Donovan said. 'A heavy user is not a bad customer.' What he wants to do is gently encourage more efficient usage of his network, and usage-based pricing may be one of the ways that happens. Such measures may not even be necessary, as Donovan admits that users self-adjust their habits to take advantage of off-peak times. For instance, he said, BitTorrent on the company's network peaks around 4 a.m., when other traffic is at an ebb. Overall P2P traffic accounts for about 20 percent of the network's usage, Donovan said."
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AT&T Embraces BitTorrent, Considers Usage-Based Pricing

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  • Isn't that an **AA policy? If you use BitTorrent, YOU WILL PAY!
    • Re:Been Done (Score:5, Informative)

      by Yer Mum (570034) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @09:46AM (#23692961)

      No, this is rather like those night usage electricity tariffs for washing machines, dishwashers, etc...

      For home packages the ISP just needs to set a low peak cap during the evening and a high off-peak cap during the rest of the day (e.g. ADSL24 in the UK [adsl24.co.uk]).

      Whatever protocol you use (BT, eMule, or HTTP download) doesn't interest the ISP, all they want to do is move non-interactive usage to off-peak times so that interactive usage during the evening works for everyone.

      Most users will understand if things are set things out clearly at the start instead of suddenly receiving a fair usage warning e-mails when some mysterious unknown limit is hit. Indeed many P2P users may choose an ISP with this kind of peak/off-peak tariff as they know exactly what they signed up for.

      • by Nossie (753694)
        and that's what they are scared of... competition? they've heard of it.

        I moved from freedom2surf/tiscalli/pipex/vodafone whatever the fuck they want to call it this month from an 'unlimited' business account to a limited ADSL24 business account.

        They SO badly started to suck my speedtest results werent even funny (I also managed to get bumped down to a home users upload speed and had to fight to get that back, which was the last straw) Fuck I was paying £70 a month for it.

        Now... I download as m
        • Re:Been Done (Score:4, Interesting)

          by FinchWorld (845331) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @11:41AM (#23693661) Homepage
          In the UK currently with demon, £17.99 for 50GB peak hours, Unlimited off peak, off peak is set as 11PM to 9AM. Downside is 12 month contract when you first sign up and customer services is based in the part of india were people take it as a challenge to speak with an accent so thick you could drown in it.
      • I am certainly no expert in the BitTorrent protocol but it is my understanding that BitTorrent actually saves overall bandwidth because the BitTorrent client gets a part of a file from the closest copy (of which there are many) instead of the original copy (which could be much farther away, therefore saving hops).

        Put another way, if everyone downloaded Hardy Heron using HTTP or FTP instead of BitTorrent, then the impact to the Internet would be much greater.

        If my telecom bill was based on traffic usa

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        Whatever protocol you use (BT, eMule, or HTTP download) doesn't interest the ISP, all they want to do is move non-interactive usage to off-peak times so that interactive usage during the evening works for everyone.

        No, all they want to do is milk us for every dime they can.
      • by morari (1080535)
        I'd rather they punish all the people wasting countless hours and ungodly amounts of bandwidth watching crap like YouTube videos, thus allowing me to continue downloading.
      • by TheSpoom (715771) * <slashdot&uberm00,net> on Saturday June 07, 2008 @12:59PM (#23694153) Homepage Journal
        I'm surprised at this, honestly.

        Here we have a guy in charge of the biggest telecom company in the US, and he actually seems to know what he's doing. More than that, he actually wants to give his customers what they want for a fair price as opposed to being influenced by some lobbying group or external forces.

        It seems so obvious but it's been so rare with companies this large recently. I don't expect it to last long (the CFO will probably figure that claiming unlimited access when it's not is still more profitable and override him) but if AT&T does this, they've seriously made me look at them in a whole new light.
    • They're trying to not spend as much on bandwidth. It's basic business: their bandwidth is a cost and they want to lower that cost.

      What I don't understand is why they don't go to an individually tiered model. Your first 5 or 10GB are at their normal, or even higher, speed, (5Mb/512kb here) and the rest after that are at a fraction of that, but still high speed. Perhaps 1Mb/256kb. Those speeds alone would limit egregious down/uploaders to a more reasonable level, while still being able to operate normall

      • by fostware (551290)
        Most Australian ISPs do this already.

        I pay for 40G state-based traffic and 40G external traffic at 12Mbps. Once I use that quota, I'm shaped to 128Kbps - usable but annoying.
        It definitely dissuades overzealous usage since even banking sites not download at double dial up speed.
    • Whenever some schumck CEO says that they are considering pricing internet access according to usage they mean that they are going to charge more for the people who do a lot of downloading and run high traffic websites.
      They never mean that they are going to reduce the ISP access fees to pennies a month for the people who use their internet access for only about five minutes a day, to read e-mail, etc...
      Their computers could be programmed to make these microcharges, but they wo
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark_hill97 (897586) <masterofshadowsNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday June 07, 2008 @09:15AM (#23692861)
    If users are self restricting themselves to off-peak why the need for usage based pricing at all? AT&T received federal funding to get a fiber network in as well, so far they have failed to do so.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Artuir (1226648)
      What, you can't be arsed to even read the summary now?
    • A clever person at AT&T has realized that users want their P2P, so why not prepare and encourage it? Pirates will equal cash cows once metered bandwidth goes into place.

  • Instead of trying to make internet more expansive the United States telecoms want to make it cost more. I mean jesus christ we are one of the worst developed nations when it comes to internet connectivity. In Europe you can get double our speeds for the price of dial-up. Obviously their is very little costs on simply maintaining a network yet they continue to charge and rake in profits. These telecoms have no excuse. We fork over our money so you can maintain and grow your network...use it. Upgrade the Seconds Mile and start putting more efficient internet pipes. Obviously it has gotten to a point where it is becomes almost as bad as the oil companies. Just raking in profits and not using it for anything.

    • by Jurily (900488) <[jurily] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday June 07, 2008 @11:17AM (#23693491)
      I'm switching providers next month, my new connection will be 20M/20M, truly unlimited (already tested, thanks to my neighbor), for [4500 HUF = 28.8765 USD] a month.

      And I'm not even in the developed part of Europe, either.

      My current connection is 5M/1M, for [6900 HUF = 44.2773 USD].
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Urza9814 (883915)
      Yea, in Europe they have much better connections...but they also get a much bigger profit from the same size network. It's all about the population density. The networks may not seem like they're that expensive to maintain, but they're probably a couple orders of magnitude more expensive to maintain a network over here than a network with the same amount of customers in Europe.

      Yes, they could make their networks better, but they'll never be as good as the ones in Europe. No matter what, you're going to be p
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by amRadioHed (463061)
        Overall, yeah our population density is low, but we've also got areas of high density such as the north-east corridor and southern California. What does the population of Wyoming and Alaska have to do with the poor service in our big cities?
    • by vijayiyer (728590)
      Nothing stops you from leasing (or even laying) a whole bunch of fiber and starting an ISP. Go for it, and you can charge less than everybody else.
  • by stokessd (89903) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @09:27AM (#23692895) Homepage
    Traditionally the best bittorrent users also seed the files they have grabbed for a long time. So under the usage model, being a good torrent person means being penalized for extra bandwidth that I'm using to seed.

    Sheldon
    • by Ilgaz (86384)
      If this thing actually works, ATT users will soon get banned from many seeding concentrated trackers or personally from people who hates seeding to people who are forced to leech.

      It is a perfect way to make sure your users can't use bittorrent protocol by breaking the core method of how the idea works.

      Well, Vuze.com and bittorrent.com may teach them another good lesson too if they figure ATT users are only leeching backup seeders of their networks.

  • Right now AT&T has speed based pricing and they can't just set caps based on speed as some people are to far way to get higher speeds and why should they have to pay for more for going over the cap then if you where able to get a higher speed with a higher cap. If they have caps on dsl then give the users the max speed that the line can handle.
  • Not *totally* awfull (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Saturday June 07, 2008 @09:40AM (#23692939) Homepage Journal

    To a point, I don't think that's a terrible idea. What I do have a problem with is the technical difficulties behind actually doing it fairly. For example, suppose I'm sharing files with my next-door neighbor, and our packets are never going farther than the first switch we have in common. Should I be billed the same as someone streaming gigs to Tokyo? Of course not, but that's probably not technically possible to accurately track without massive hardware upgrades, and even then it sets a bad precedent of charging extra depending on destination.

    I'm not sure what to think on this one. I mean, they're acknowledging that they can't offer unlimited access, which we all knew anyway but is nice to hear them actually say. And yes, P2P probably is costing them lost of money. I don't think variable pricing is the answer, though, and I don't think their customers will either.

    • Should I be billed the same as someone streaming gigs to Tokyo? Of course not, but that's probably not technically possible to accurately track without massive hardware upgrades, and even then it sets a bad precedent of charging extra depending on destination.

      I think the precedent has already been set. Telcos have been doing this forever, with both landline and cellular calls, and some ISPs offer free/unlimited access to their FTP servers, for example. I don't think it's a stretch to say that traffic that stays on their network gets charged at a lower rate than traffic leaving their network (on the reasonable assumption that they buy their upstream bandwidth). It might be tricky to track it to the switch level, but tracking to the network gateway level should b

      • Except that the trend is in the opposite direction.

        For phones, it used to be that there were at least three different intra-US calling areas. (I'm talking about times when I was actually there to see it, it may have been even more in times past.) You had local, which was usually but not always unlimited. You had an expanded nearby area which got one long-distance rate. You had the rest of the country which got another long-distance rate.

        Now it's quite common to have phones which can call anywhere in the US
    • by gbjbaanb (229885)
      not necessarily, I assume you mean your next-door neighbour is usiong the same ISP you are, as if he's not your packets are going off way into the distance and back again.

      If he is, you're still using the network as far as that switch, which is probably in their regional hub, so you're still using as much of the network as you would for anything. Sure, their peering arrangements mean they pay extra for you to send packets to Tokyo, but anyone sending packets from Tokyo to you would also pay them extra throug
      • If he is, you're still using the network as far as that switch, which is probably in their regional hub, so you're still using as much of the network as you would for anything.

        Yeah, things get screwy with DSL, and I was almost hesitant to use that an an example. Just pretend that the switch is in the same city as the DSLAM, would you? :-)

    • by m94mni (541438)
      So, this bashism is no longer that funny?

      http://bash.org/?142934 [bash.org]

      docsigma2000: jesus christ man
      docsigma2000: my son is sooooooo dead
      c8info: Why?
      docsigma2000: hes been looking at internet web sites in fucking EUROPE
      docsigma2000: HE IS SURFING LONG DISTANCE
      docsigma2000: our fucking phone bill is gonna be nuts
      c8info: Ooh, this is bad. Surfing long distance adds an extra $69.99 to your bill per hour.
      docsigma2000: ...!!!!!! FUCK FUCK FUCK
      docsigma2000: is there some plan we can sign up for???
      docsigma2000: cuz ther
    • What I do have a problem with is the technical difficulties behind actually doing it fairly.

      How about basing it off of the TTL count of the packets you receive? The TTL is basically a measure of how many hops the packet has made. Since each router that the packet passes through decrements the TTL count, it is a reasonable indicator of how much network infrastructure gets used to deliver that packet to you. Just bill based on the accumulated remaining time to live.
  • According to the CIA World Factbook [wikipedia.org] there were 200+ million Internet users [wikipedia.org] in the US in 2007.

    Given that the Internet was designed in large part by DARPA to be cheap and scalable. And indeed, the Internet is just a bunch of wires and switches. And given that even if every user pays just 1$/month, where the hell is all the money going?
    • Theres a significant difference between end-user cheap and military-cheap.
    • by max born (739948)
      Why was that modded troll?

      If you look at the amount AT&T, Comcast, Verizon spend on marketing you'll find it comaparable to what they spend on upgrades.

      Comcast spends millions on TV commercials to tell you how Comcastic they are.

      These companies are government sanctioned monopolies that run humongous bureaucratic hierarchies. They have diminished incentive to be efficient because entry level into the market is so high as to preclude real competition.
  • by camperdave (969942) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @10:02AM (#23693039) Journal

    It's not just about fat pipes, either: AT&T also wants to bring you content and applications.
    I don't think that the corporation that owns/maintains the connection should be the same one that provides the content. It allows them to compete unfairly by pulling dirty, underhanded stunts. In Ontario, when Bell was forced to open up its network to other telcos, those other telcos were put on the noisy lines, while the pristine lines were kept for Bell customers. The same thing is happening to DSL providers. We saw a similar thing happen with Microsoft. They provided the OS, and the applications. By crippling the published APIs and using non-crippled private APIs, they made their apps look better than their competition's.

    Give me one fat pipe, and let me choose which VOIP, IPTV, and ISP companies I wish to deal with.
    • That's called "network neutrality." Maybe you think that there should be laws in place to make sure that equality takes place? ;)
  • Errata (Score:2, Troll)

    by Dunbal (464142)
    "What he wants to do is gently encourage more efficient usage of his network" should be read as "he wants to maximize profits and gouge his customers as much as he can get away with without going to jail", because after all mindless and perpetual expansion of PROFIT is what communications (or any other business) is all about, isn't it?

    In the beginning telcos set up "toll booths" at the content provider level, and you had to pay more depending on how much content people downloaded fr
  • by Brian Stretch (5304) * on Saturday June 07, 2008 @10:33AM (#23693243) Homepage
    I am sick and tired of the excuses and outright lies from AT&T for their kludgy FTTN U-verse network when Verizon has already proven that you can profitably build a FTTH network in America. But no, AT&T would rather milk their balky copper plant and put off the one-time expense of running fiber like they'll eventually have to do anyhow.

    Every time I ask an AT&T droid about that they make wild claims of Verizon having so much trouble building their network, charging $hundreds to rewire your home, etc, etc. All I know is that my grandmother, in the middle of nowhere, can get FiOS and I, in a major university town, am stuck with U-verse.

    Yes, Verizon's stock took a hit when they announced FiOS. I used the opportunity to buy shares for my IRA on the cheap. That's worked out well so far.
    • I love FIOS. FIOS TV and Internet. Verizon was bold enough to do it, and it was the right time to do so. Look at Comcast bitching and moaning. Now AT&T?

      They're behind, and it is their own fault. Verizon made the bold move of deploying fiber all over the place and FIOS is in demand more than any other broadband provider due to the fact that while their local cable companies bitch and complain, cap and throttle... Verizon says... "You need more speed? Well we realize that, and the future is only going to
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @10:37AM (#23693261) Homepage Journal
    BS. This is like saying its 'for the children' while the government takes your rights by the bucketful.

    This is just a "public friendly" way for the *AA to get their way without the average Joe having a clue it happened. Make it so expensive to download that its cheaper to buy their crap at the store ( and if you actually do buy it online, you get to pay more ).

    They cant stop things via technology, so they will kill it ( and most everything else online in the process ) via monetary.

    And you get to pay for incoming spam to boot. Grrr
  • A scheme to start down the path of making HUGE profits by extracting money for every little thing a user does online...

    This brought to you by AT & T... i.e the beloved phone company... Some things never change.
  • Why change plans? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HalAtWork (926717) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @11:13AM (#23693465)
    Why? If you're on AT&T then you're already using bittorrent and have an unlimited package, why would you want to transfer to something usage-based? Why would this attract people from other ISPs? Why should bittorrent even be singled out, it's just another packet on the wire. If people start downloading a ton of videos due to subscription service, will they have "plans" that spring up to help charge you more for that too?
  • Ok so it will not work everywhere but if you are charged for usage you will very quickly clean up your systems once you get your monthly usage bill.
  • What AT&T should be doing is trying to keep the P2P traffic entirely on their own network. The most expensive thing any ISP can buy is generalized Internet bandwidth. And yet P2P traffic could just as well stay within their own network, as the content for any one transfer is the same everywhere.
  • Like with hosting rules don't seem to apply and you can promise everything under the sun. An 8 meg unlimited connection probably will be anything but 8 meg or unlimited. So why in the hell is it ok to advertise it as such?

    It's a free market, let the ISPs do what they want with their traffic but they better tell the consumer *exactly* what is done so the consumer can make a decent decision.
  • And then we can kiss the 'public' internet goodbye as it heads back to a mostly 'commercial' network as only companies will be able to justify/afford the bill.

    Too bad most of you young people don't even remember how bad it was when it was all metered service. ( even in the BBS days, lots had limits on use ) None of the real time communication we have today would have been practical, and downloads, well they were almost out of the question. Trying to get a few files would easily push you over your monthly l
    • by vijayiyer (728590)
      People who are idly surfing are using a negligible amount of bandwidth and their costs will reflect that.
      • by DragonTHC (208439)
        people who are idly surfing today are using way more bandwidth than you think.

        most people who are idly surfing are watching web video and they're using more than 3Mbits most of the time.

        Get with the program my Indian friend.
        • by nurb432 (527695)
          Anymore its hard to avoid that video nonsense since every place you go the have some stupid flash commercial, that soon you will get to pay extra to view.

        • by vijayiyer (728590)
          I don't see what my parents' origin has to do with this topic. I think of myself as more American than the socialists who dominate Slashdot nowadays. If you view web videos all day, you should pay for it. Why is that a hard concept? Get with the program, my stoner friend.
  • by nurb432 (527695)
    So have they fixed the spam problem, or do we get charged for all our non-solicited traffic?

    Ya, thats what i thought. Why should they fix it now? It means more revenue for them.

    This will raise hosting rates too i bet. No more dinky 5 dollar a month web-pages or mailing lists.
  • by Bookwyrm (3535) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @12:41PM (#23694023)
    Just out of curiousity, just how easy do people think it is to 'upgrade the network'? I see that brought up a lot in the comments (i.e. "AT&T should just upgrade their network" "Given Moore's Law, the network should be cheaper" etc. etc.) It certainly gives the impression that people think that a nation-wide IP network is as easy to upgrade as their personal computer as as proportionally cheap.

    When I was working in telecom, network upgrades (and maintenance) could be ferociously hard. If you wanted to upgrade the link between two co-location facilities, besides the problems of running the lines, you could run into issues if you needed to upgrade your networking equipment at either end -- suddenly, you had to stock new on-site spares, make sure the technicians were prepared, deal with power, space, and cooling issues. (If you needed to replace your current router with a newer router that was physically bigger, there had to be rack space available for it. If it needed more power/cooling, that had to be available. If space/power/cooling wasn't there, *someone* had to pay for the upgrades, or you had to move to a new facility and re-home all the network connections there. Not trivial and just the man-hour costs could be huge. (And in some places, the co-locations were subject to union rules, which placed additional restrictions on work.))

    (Actually, for some network facilities, the fields would refuse to go without a security escort, because they weren't going to be responsible for driving trucks full of valuable equipment into some areas and leaving them outside while they worked inside. That increased the cost noticeably.)

    Most of the business plans (at the time) assumed that equipment would be paid off over a period of years, not months. People would be expensive new telecom gear and plan to pay it off over the course of three or four years so they could set their monthly rate to customers at X, rather than try to pay it off in one year by charging customers more -- the lower prices/competition may have appeared great to the customers, but once the rush of entrants into the ISP business died out and people stopped pumping money in, the equipment upgrades got stalled because business realities demanded that the providers pay off the old equipment first.

    So providers had gone in with models saying they would buy equipment for their networks, charge customers X amount, and, say just for kicks, maybe 5% of that amount went to paying off equipment. Of course, every time there was an unexpected cost, or they had to lower their rates to stay competitive, less money could be used to recoup their capital expense in hardware, which meant they couldn't afford to upgrade. (Of course, at a certain point, some couldn't afford to not upgrade, either, and self-destructed.) So the 'life span' of old equipment kept going because no one could raise rates due to the competition, who also couldn't for the same reasons, and new entrants coming in with fresh capital/investments that kept the rates of the moment low. The 'rapid advances' in technology were in part due to the money being poured into the marketplace (investment of one sort or another), *not* the success of the business models. Once the party was over and the reality of the bills hit, a lot of the upgrades stalled pretty hard.

    It's not that Moore's Law hasn't affected the cost of providing bandwidth, it's that people are still struggling with buried (sic) infrastructure costs from previous technology. If you feel you are paying 2004 prices for 2004 technology, network-bandwidth-wise, rather than the equivalent 2008 price/performance, it's because you probably are, because the 2004 technology is still getting paid off.

    (Let's say that, oh, I could get a 48 port DSLAM for $2400, or $500 a port. So just to recoup my capex on buying that sucker, I need to make $500 per port. If I can throw $10/port a month at the hardware cost, that's 50 months, or over four years until I can justify upgrading it. It can be surprisingly
  • the problem is that 99% of users that have had their accounts for more than a year were signed up to "unlimited" accounts.

    Now ISPs and comcast want to alter the deal. They want to offer us less for the same price. This is not acceptable. I signed up for unlimited usage.

    I don't think it's fair, ethical, or legal for them to just change the terms without notification or consideration. I'm not paying the same price for such limited usage. Everyone needs high bandwidth, high throughput service now. The IS
  • Sure glad I switched from AT&T to Cox last week. The truth is, it's crazy that I didn't do it sooner. My plan with AT&T was for 3mbps down and 512kbps up. They only guaranteed 1.5mbps down and of course, over the 4 years I had the service, I never saw anything much over 1.5.

    I switched both my phone and internet to Cox. In return, I'm getting 12mbps down, 1mbps up, and a handful of phone services (3-way calling, call forwarding, and some other services I actually have uses for) and I'm paying 25% les

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