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App To Keep ISPs Honest About Bandwidth Caps 172

Posted by samzenpus
from the keeping-track-of-the-trackers dept.
alphadogg writes "A browser-based app developed by Georgia Tech researchers is designed to help Internet users make better use of their bandwidth – and to make sure ISPs are holding up their end of the bandwidth bargain. The Kermit app, which is being shown off Wednesday (PDF) at the CHI 2011 Conference on Human Factors in Computing in Vancouver, emerges at a time when service providers are starting to place bandwidth caps not just on wireless services, but on wireline services, too. AT&T, for example, is putting such caps in place this month for its DSL and U-verse customers. At least initially, such caps aren't expected to affect all but the very heaviest bandwidth users."
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App To Keep ISPs Honest About Bandwidth Caps

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  • Browser based? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:03PM (#36099168) Journal

    How is a browser based app going to keep track of all TCP/IP traffic?

    Also, Kermit is a terminal emulator. Pick a different name.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      The display is browser based, you can be sure it is using the router for the data and any throttling.

    • Re:Browser based? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:09PM (#36099242)

      http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~marshini/files/kermit.pdf

      That's the actual paper on it. You have to read it to get the info as to how they really did it - via DD-WRT with RFLOW. Your suspicions are correct though - they can't do it with just a browser.

      • by arth1 (260657)

        That's the actual paper on it. You have to read it to get the info as to how they really did it - via DD-WRT with RFLOW

        That seems like an awful lot of work to reinvent the wheel.
        SNMP has all the information I need, and is built-in to pretty much every router I've ever seen.

        % snmpget -v 1 -c notpublic mygateway IF-MIB::ifInOctets.13 MIB::ifOutOctets.13
        IF-MIB::ifInOctets.13 = Counter32: 2469428683
        IF-MIB::ifOutOctets.13 = Counter32: 200923139

    • by drpimp (900837) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:10PM (#36099262) Journal
      Ms. Piggy ??? Seems apropos for seeing who the bandwidth hog is.
    • by illtud (115152)

      Also, Kermit is a terminal emulator. Pick a different name.

      It's a lot more than that, for those of us who suffered using it to transfer files across 9k6 baud. It really sucked being off campus home for the holidays in the early 90s. (cue real oldies and their suffering stories...), at least it was an improvement on ZMODEM.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>>Kermit was an improvement on ZMODEM.

        Ahhh, nope. Kermit was one of the EARLY transfer protocols (early 80s), and because it was basically junk, was quickly replaced by later formats like Ymodem1K, Ymodem-g, and Zmodem (late 80s).

        • by illtud (115152)

          I was still using the kermit app for terminal emulation and file transfer in '92. But I remember using ZMODEM within it earlier, and I thought that was then superceded by the kermit file transfer. I recall something about "ZMODEM=..." in escaped mode.

          Somebody refresh me - anybody got a link to a kermit session screencap?

        • by bedouin (248624)

          I never really saw Z Modem used outside of the BBS scene. If you were using VMS or a UNIX variant Kermit was the method of choice -- though I can't remember why. Maybe because it was usually installed on any system but Z Modem rarely was.

    • Also, Kermit is a terminal emulator. Pick a different name.

      They just have to hold their breath for eight more weeks [columbia.edu].

  • Instead of using such app, just choose a provider that doesn't cap you.
    Or al least just slows down the connection speed if you are over the cap, but doesn't charge you extra.
    I can't forget the times my internet access was metered, back in dial-up days. Don't want that nightmare again for any price and any cap.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:12PM (#36099292)

      I don't have a choice in voting. Sure there's the "option" of moving and going to a location that has choices for broadband internet access but my wallet doesn't have that kind of voting power.

    • by kimvette (919543)

      Instead of using such app, just choose a provider that doesn't cap you.

      . . . and when you are limited to a choice of only one or two providers, both of whom have bandwidth caps (published or unlimited*) what do you propose as the solution?

      *("unlimited*" = !unlimited)

  • by OverlordQ (264228)

    Sounds like a less useful version of the SamKnows white box [samknows.com] already out.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:11PM (#36099266)

    "...such caps aren't expected to affect all but the very heaviest bandwidth users."

    Last month, I used 350gb of traffic; all of which was legitimate, split between services like NetFlix for television and movies, Steam for gaming, iTunes for music and podcasts, and the rest of normal day-to-day traffic. I may be on the extreme end for most people at this point in time, but the point is that technology keeps moving, and eventually usage like mine will be the norm, not the exception.

    What the bandwidth caps will do is stifle technological progress. To use the required car analogy, they are like putting a 40mph cap on the newly-invented automobile, simply because few, if any, people need to go that fast. At some point, people did need to drive 40mph, then 50mph, then 60mph, and so on and so forth. It will work the same way with internet usage, and that is why bandwidth caps are such a serious problem. A decade ago, most of the country was still on dial-up, and the ideas of streaming video, social media, and the proliferation of modern media over the internet were still in their infancy. 150gb then would have been, literally, an unreachable amount of data to consume in a month. However, times change, and today 150gb is next to nothing for someone who uses the internet to its current full potential.

    So many people may look at these, if they notice them at all, and say, "Who cares? I don't use that much data." But the point is that they don't use that much data now, and this is an attempt to keep them from using that much data ever.

    Because let's not mince words about this. Infrastructure is fairly expensive, but once it is in place bandwidth across it is extremely cheap (often approaching as low as 3 cents per gigabyte, according to several studies). Corporations like AT&T and Comcast aren't doing this because the bandwidth usage is expensive. They are doing it because they are terrified of a future where consumers don't need their multiple services anymore. If you can get your television, movies, music, games, e-mail, social contacts, phone service, etc. all through your internet connection, there will be zero incentive to pay for locked-down cable television and movie rentals, and highly priced telephone service. They are not about to let that happen, and this is a major salvo in their war on that.

    That's what people need to be aware of with this. It's not about the cost, it's about controlling the flow of information and stifling technological progress to secure corporate profits. And nobody should stand for it.

    • by g0bshiTe (596213)
      Why is steam getting bundled into this? Unless you are downloading a shit-ton of games from the steam store, steam uses no more than a normal mp gaming session.

      I know someone is going to say something about the steam updater, but last I checked when a patch for a game was released your option was to download the patch or play on unpatched servers. The latter tends to be lacking if a game is popular at the time.
      • by MoonBuggy (611105)

        Games often clock in at many GB, and a moderately enthusiastic gamer might well be buying more than one each month, especially with the big flashy promos that Steam tends to do - it's not going to use your full allowance unless you're reinstalling on a new system (a valid use in itself), but I can quite see that it'd make a dent. A few people in the house with both Steam and Netflix accounts adds up pretty quickly, even if not all of them are buying games every month.

        As for updates - if you're forced to pla

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Not that it solves the problem, but you can, and probably should, keep a copy of the downloaded files, that way you just have to copy them to the correct directory and have Steam revalidate them.

          • Or maybe just buy the game from a brick and mortar store to save having a copy as it comes on a disk already! Doesn't solve the cap problem either but then you're not using any data to get the initial install!
            /sarcasm
    • To use the required car analogy

      Wrong analogy. The proper car analogy to 'bandwidth' is cars per lane per time unit. How much 'data' i.e. cars can you get through a fixed pipe, i.e. highway.

      In the car world, as more people try to use the limited resource your speed goes down. The concept of 'caps' is to limit the amount of data being requested at any given time.

      Unfortunately the ISPs concept is that they stop the congestion by limiting how many miles you can drive in a month which still lets everyone on the highway for the

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Which is inefficient and leads to wasted capacity at times of the day when people are sleeping or at work or otherwise not likely to be online.

        • Fair enough, but how does that matter to the problem at hand of limited bandwidth at peak times?
        • by icebraining (1313345) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @05:50PM (#36100294) Homepage

          'round here, when we still had caps my ISP had a policy of limiting heavily (20GB/month) during the daytime, and not counting the traffic during the night (1 to 9 am).

          Of course, everyone had their download managers and P2P apps (eMule, at the time, was the most used) scheduled to only transfer data during those hours.

          It worked pretty well; the ISP had the lowest RTT of all during the day and you could transfer way more data per month.

    • by OverlordQ (264228) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:43PM (#36099600) Journal

      Last month, I used 350gb of traffic; all of which was legitimate, split between services like NetFlix for television and movies, Steam for gaming, iTunes for music and podcasts, and the rest of normal day-to-day traffic.

      1 HD movie a day for a month from Netflix will top out at about 135 GB.
      Buying one new AAA game a week on Steam for a month is 40-45 GB.
      A 384kbps stream 24/7 for an entire month would only be 125 GB

      I think the Internet turns everybody into hoarders, they download/stream things they have very little intention of ever watching just because it's there.

      • Except for OTA with antenna, everything I watch on television is streaming, mostly from Netflix. Between me, my wife, and my 4-year-old, we watch 4-6 hours a day, and about half of that is in HD. It really doesn't take much.

        My extreme likelihood of going over AT&T's 150GB cap caused me to move back to Time Warner's cable internet service, which for now, at least, doesn't have caps. I hate Time Warner, but since those are my only two broadband choices, it wasn't a tough choice.

    • by StikyPad (445176)

      But the point is that they don't use that much data now, and this is an attempt to keep them from using that much data ever.

      Exactly. And the author of TFA has already forgotten that caps aren't new -- Comcast implemented them back in Fall of '08. And to underscore your point, that was almost 3 years ago and they haven't raised them since, and certainly haven't scaled in proportion to the speeds of up to 100Mbit that they now offer.

    • My ISP in Alaska just went from quasi unlimited (until they tell you it's limited) to officially capped. The top tier that costs nearly $200 month gives you 120GB of transfer @ 22MB/4MB. Before the cap on average I used about 70GB a month with my plan, my same plan with the caps imposed was 20GB a month. When I called my ISP 'GCI' the person on the phone outright told me the only way anyone uses that much bandwidth is if they are a thief using torrents. When i asked about watching HD movies streaming, a
    • by Ichijo (607641)

      What the bandwidth caps will do is stifle technological progress.

      Actually, it will encourage the development of bandwidth-conserving technologies.

      • That's a poor way to develop. Software would certainly have to be innovative if we stopped at 50MHZ processors, but the limitation would dwarf the accomplishments.
        • by Ichijo (607641)

          Software would certainly have to be innovative if we stopped at 50MHZ processors, but the limitation would dwarf the accomplishments.

          If there's a good reason to stop at 50 MHz, then it might be better to innovate than to outlaw stopping at 50 MHz.

          Similarly, if there's a good reason for bandwidth caps, then it might be better to innovate than to outlaw the caps.

    • by Idbar (1034346)
      I don't know if your analogy plays well. I'm seeing that caps get lower but we get more and more advertisement. Seems to me that it's more like you're given a limited amount of gas, but that gas may be consumed by a large message board you're required to carry making your fuel efficient car a gas guzzler.

      It bothers me that AT&T gives me a $15 200MB plan, but insists on locking the phone so I'm not able to write the host file to avoid annoying advertisement that it's wasting it.
    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      I would put you into the category of "heaviest bandwidth users".

    • I have a 150GB cap (I live in Australia - we've lived with caps since the beginning). I CAN use that much if pushed, but generally don't. Steam? My ISP (Internode) provides official Steam content servers which if selected and used by the Steam client, allow downloads of games unquoted and hence not affecting total usage and endangering the cap. It's a common solution to the cap issue here and works reasonably well, except for the cases where the Internode servers don't mirror some game's content and instead

      • by Cimexus (1355033)

        On top of that: if you do find yourself exceeding your cap on a regular basis, you can always upgrade to a plan with a higher cap for not that much more per month. Off the top of my head Internode also offer 300 GB, 600 GB and 1 TB caps on their (Agile DSLAM'ed) plans.

        This is why I honestly don't think caps in Australia and other like countries are much of a big deal anymore: there's a good choice of them so you can get heaps of data if you need it, or save money if you're a light user. On top of that you h

    • by Ostracus (1354233)

      That's what people need to be aware of with this. It's not about the cost, it's about controlling the flow of information and stifling technological progress to secure corporate profits. And nobody should stand for it.

      Never thought I'd see the day when people thought being in front of the boob tube was progress.

    • This, exactly.

      Ten years ago, it would've been hardly conceivable that it would be possible to stream several seasons' worth of a TV show over a service like Netflix. Now, my wife does that routinely. And that's just one thing the net connection gets used for in a given month. I like to listen to streaming music. I download updates for console games via my Net connection. I periodically download a full distribution upgrade for one or more of my machines from it. I telecommute several days a month, and can pu

    • Like a tax, once an ISP has implemented a cap, it will only get worse not better. Unless government rips the privilege from their cold dead hands, which will not happen as much like in the USA, the regulators are in bed with industry.

      So it went from no caps, like 3 years ago, to caps, to tiered caps... So it used to be that everyone got the same cap. Then they figured we can make even more money of this and separated it into usually 3 tiers, light, regular, and Pro... Basically most Canadians can go with th

  • I'm an AT&T customer. So far I haven't been given any notification (outside of Slashdot) that my DSL account is about to receive a bandwidth cap. Moreover, I really have no idea how much bandwidth I use. I've read recent stories about methods to track my own use, but honestly, why should I? If they are going to charge me or punish me for exceeding an arbitrary limit, won't they be required to tell me how close I am to that limit?

    I have no love for AT&T. I refuse to use their cellular service be

    • by MBCook (132727)

      I received an email, however they told me to check my usage on their site.

      I went to their site and was told they didn't know my usage, so I didn't need to worry about it (it actually said that). I found that a bit disquieting.

      I'm not heavy user. The most I do is go on occasional Netflix binges watching a bunch of TV episodes in a row. It's very unlikely I'd actually hit the cap. But if it's going to be enforced against me, I want to be able to see what I've used.

      • by sjames (1099)

        If you want to be able to trust their figures, petition your state government. Gas pumps and other meters are governed by a state bureau of weights and measures to make sure it is accurate and well maintained. It's why your gallon of gas doesn't turn out a few ounces light.

        Otherwise it comes down to "trust us, you need to pay us extra and it won't much matter if your own measurement says otherwise.

    • You can't trust their accounting. I have an account with Clear and my monthly usage totals for one adapter seem to be different every time I look. And I'm talking about usage for months that are long closed. I've seen the total go from 130 gigs to over 500 gigs down to 460 gigs, then 380 gigs, and now 200 gigs. For the same month. It's ridiculous. Their inability to accurately track data usage is probably the reason they don't have a specified cap. Because people would pay more attention and notice t

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      I got an email but there were not details on numbers or such. However being a DSL user with 150KB/s I don't think I'll be hitting any limits anytime soon.

  • by g0bshiTe (596213) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:29PM (#36099470)
    If you are one of those that are unfortunate enough to not have a choice of ISP either due to only 1 in your area or all in your area with caps, how about emailing compaines that have streaming media, if you have an account with them. How far do you think these caps would go, if half of Netflix userbase suddenly dropped their service, because they were capped on the data amount their ISP let them have.

    I can see the email now.

    Dear Netflix,
    I regret that I must terminate my account with you, due to my ISP having a cap on the amount of bandwidth I can use per month. Though my family and I have enjoyed your streaming services for N months now, we simply can not sacrifice our day to day net usage for streaming content.
    In the future we may be able to reopen an account, but as of this time there is only 1 ISP in our area, we have no other choices for service.

    Thank you
    Joe Capped

    Is it just me that thinks that if Netflix, or ESPN, or whoever sells streaming subscriptions gets a few thousand emails like this that they wouldn't start putting pressure on the ISP's?

    • by Desler (1608317)

      What Netflix is doing is lowering the quality of the video they stream so people don't use as much data. They do this now for Canadians who face far stricter caps right now. Secondly, how exactly is Netflix going to put pressure on the ISPs? They are extremely tiny compared to the ISPs especially when it comes to political clout. Why exactly do you think AT&T, Time Warner, Comcast or Verizon are going to care that Netflix might lose customers to caps?

      • in canada use velcom or teksavy

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        True, streaming netflix is an extremely small market for a tiny number of bleeding edge customers who think they are average.

        • by timeOday (582209)
          Huh? Most newer TVs have netflix streaming built in. Sony and Samsung aren't "bleeding edge," they're mainstream.
      • Netflix Canada solves the problem by not having any content worth streaming. No Star Trek. No Lost. Almost no Battlestar Galactica. No Star Wars, no Gilligan's Island, no Hogan's Heroes, no V, no Breaking Bad, no Corner Gas, no Survivorman, no Babylon 5, no Jurassic Park, no Rambo, no James Bond, no Columbo, no Simpsons, no Futurama, no Pirates of the Caribbean, no Get Smart.
      • by sjames (1099)

        They'll do it by sending lobbyist to counteract the ISP lobbyist.

    • Here in Australia, where we have had caps for as long as I can recall, we have streaming services that are integrated with the ISPs who quota, so the streamed movies are not metered against your quota (they are in the "free zone", etc). The major movie streaming players have deals with the major ISPs so this is a non issue.

      You can use Steam in the same way (non-metered). Also, they host repos for Linux distros, etc, so yum or whatever don't count against your quota, either and some of the nice ones even l
  • Block advertizing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by starfishsystems (834319) on Wednesday May 11, 2011 @04:35PM (#36099516) Homepage
    Most protocols are dedicated to a specific function. It used to be that you wouldn't run a network application unless it was doing something that you specifically wanted it to do.

    That expectation has changed significantly over the past decade, and not for the better. Now your choice of operating system or application is taken as an implicit invitation for it to use your network connection in ways that are not necessarily intended for your benefit at all. That's why it sometimes makes sense to configure a separate firewall device even for personal use. You can't, theoretically, prevent a proprietary protocol from tunnelling whatever data it likes, but you can at least perform a practical kind of triage over the traffic passing across your network.

    As the Web becomes an increasingly general transport for applications, it becomes a network management exercise in its own right. And the concepts are similar to firewall management. Given that I'm paying for my system resources and my network bandwidth, I certainly don't want to waste them transporting and processing content that isn't valuable to me. Advertizing is not valuable to me. Therefore, I block it, just as I block any protocol that isn't valuable to me. As a consequence, I get very high signal-to-noise in my use of the network.

    My ISP should be grateful.
    • by Ostracus (1354233)

      Advertizing is not valuable to me. Therefore, I block it, just as I block any protocol that isn't valuable to me.

      You block slashdot then? How about any of the other sites you use that use advertising?

      • Is there something I wrote that you don't understand?

        I don't have to block Slashdot, because it offers the option itself. That's nice. It would be nice if all sites were like that. My site is.
      • by chihowa (366380) *

        Advertizing is not valuable to me. Therefore, I block it, just as I block any protocol that isn't valuable to me.

        You block slashdot then? How about any of the other sites you use that use advertising?

        Slashdot isn't advertising (besides the occasional Slashvertisement). He's blocking the ads but still visiting the sites. Am I right to assume your post was a passive aggressive attempt to claim that he's stealing from the poor websites or something?

  • ISPs will simply put in their ToS that caps are based on the ISP's sole measurement of your bandwidth.

    • by jroysdon (201893)

      Except that if I track all bandwidth and the numbers are way off, class action lawsuits can bring the ISPs in check.

      • by Builder (103701)

        Not in America any more. It's not going to be long before ISPs have TOS that mean you agree to arbitration. As soon as they have that, you can't bring a class suit anymore.

  • From the summary:

    >and to make sure ISPs are holding up their end of the bandwidth bargain.

    It's hardly a bargain if it's a term forced on you from lack of ability to take your business elsewhere.

    • by pla (258480)
      From the summary:

      Also from the summary: "The app is not publicly available, but the researchers are collecting input for future testing and possible commercialization"

      This "announcement" amounts to a press release of a pre-beta commercial product. Woo-woo, stop the frickin' presses, we have a new winner of Slashvertisement of the year!
  • All this is, is rflow for dummies... dummies who are smart enough to get a DD-WRT compatible router and flash it. That said, I just picked up a cheap Buffalo 802.11N router, and it came with DD-WRT preinstalled, so this may be more accessible than it once was.

  • I have a rather good friend that runs a ISP. He has a rather simple solution to bandwidth hogs, he disconnects them. If they paid for the month he refunds them and sends them on their way. It just is not worth it to keep those problem customers.

  • Bandwidth caps are just one more reason to secure your WiFi so that you don't end up paying for your neighbors torrents on top of having to deal with copyright trolls.
  • Track your usage (DDWRT has a nice bandwidth tracking feature built in), and at end of the month run a BitTorrent client and help FOSS by sharing the lastest distros, while at the same time forcing ISPs to upgrade their bandwidth. If everyone used every last bit of their cap down to the last hunderd MB or so, we'd see some traction.

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