Friday, December 2, 2011

Do Data Hogs Cause Peak-Hour Congestion?

It is an unquestioned fact that a small percentage of broadband users, on virtually any network, use vastly more data than typical users do. The top one percent of data consumers account for 20 percent of the overall consumption, for example.

In the absence of mechanisms--or demonstrated end user demand--to price by value, rather than on a flat rate, most service providers rely on simple monthly data caps to attempt to regulate usage overall. 

But that doesn’t necessarily affect peak-hour usage, some will argue.One issue is that users vastly prefer “buckets of usage” with predictable recurring costs, to metered pricing. So peak-hour pricing would introduce some element of pricing uncertainty, which consumers presumably would not prefer. 

Presumably a better tactic would be creation of “additional fee” services that provide quality of service at peak hours, for users willing to pay.Some will object to such policies as creating a “two-tier” Internet. Others will simply say it offers consumers choice. 

But are heavy users the  problem?

The question might seem silly. If the big problem for an access provider is peak hour congestion, then heavy users would seemingly have to be part of the analysis. But the question some would ask is “who are the heavy users, at peak hours?” That might be a different question than “who are the heavy users, over a billing period?”

Some argue that bandwidth caps do not necessarily alleviate congestion problems. Do data hogs cause congestion? If not, then it makes more sense to use other pricing and value mechanisms to shape demand. Do Data Hogs Cause Peak-Hour Congestion?

A new analysis by analyst BenoĆ®t Felten suggests the answer is highly nuanced. Felten argues that about 78 percent of peak-hour congestion is caused by the heaviest users. 

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