Sandvine’s Chief Technology Officer, Don Bowman, recently concluded months of work with members of the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG) to publish BITAG’s Technical Working Group’s report, Differentiated Treatment of Internet Traffic.
BITAG is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization focused on bringing together engineers and technologists in a Technical Working Group to develop consensus on broadband network management practices and other related technical issues that can affect users’ Internet experience.
BITAG’s membership is unique in that it truly represents a cross-section of key Internet stakeholders – groups who are frequently seen as being on opposite side of Internet policy issues. It includes AT&T, Center for Democracy and Technology, Cisco, Comcast, Disney, Google, MIT, Princeton, Sandvine and Verizon, amongst many others. Imagine getting consensus from this group on any topic? Well, that’s exactly what the report has done.
Here are some potentially surprising points of consensus from the report:
- “The ability to treat traffic differentially has been built into Internet protocols from the beginning. The specifications for both IPv4 and IPv6 have included fields to support traffic differentiation since their inception to indicate to routers the quality of service desired, in terms of queuing precedence and routing parameters around delay, rate, and reliability.”
- “TCP causes recurring momentary congestion. When TCP transfers a large file, such as video content or a large web page, it practically guarantees that it will create recurring momentary congestion at some point in its network path. This effect exists by design, and it cannot necessarily be eliminated by increasing capacity.”
- “The absence of differentiation does not imply comparable behavior among applications. In the absence of differentiation, the underlying protocols used on the Internet do not necessarily give each application comparable bandwidth.”
- “Differentiated treatment can produce a net improvement in Quality of Experience (QoE). When differentiated treatment is applied with an awareness of the requirements for different types of traffic, it becomes possible to create a benefit without an offsetting loss.”
- “Network operators and ASPs should be encouraged to implement efficient and adaptive network resource management practices. In a previous report BITAG recommended that ASPs and CDNs implement efficient and adaptive network resource management practices; we reiterate that recommendation here, extending it to network operators.”
- “Quality of Service metrics should be interpreted in the context of Quality of Experience. Common Quality of Service metrics, often included in commercial service level agreements, include capacity, delay, delay variation, and loss rate, among other things. From the viewpoint of the end user application, these metrics trade off against each other and must be considered in the context of Quality of Experience.”
So what can we gather from this?
- Those media articles that boldly and routinely declare how the Internet was built on the notion that all traffic be treated equally? Not so. Quite the opposite. The notion of traffic differentiation has been there from Day 1.
- Network congestion happens! It’s built into TCP. By design. The notion of “reasonable network management” is not only reasonable, but necessary.
- An unmanaged network is not a neutral network. Applications interact with each other in a manner that favours the performance of some applications over others. It’s not surprising: application developers don’t get together to discuss how they can develop their applications for the common good of the network as a whole. Quite naturally, they each act to maximize their individual interests. Yet the Internet is, in fact, a commons. Traffic differentiation can help mediate these intra-network disputes in a way that benefits all.
Again, BITAG’s report was written by technical experts from all Internet stakeholder groups: social democracy groups, academics, content and application developers, network equipment vendors and network operators.
Sandvine has worked hard over the years to ensure that policy debates on Network Neutrality and other topics are informed with respect to the technical foundation of the Internet. Our points may get lost in mass media articles. The technical mumbo jumbo doesn’t make for good headlines, journalists may struggle to understand it, and they assume readers may too. But make no mistake, without that understanding, any Internet policy will be misdirected and without foundation.
Fortunately, the FCC and other regulators globally seemed to have heard some of these points. References to Sandvine alone appear in 11 different footnotes of the FCC’s March 2015 Open Internet Order. “Reasonable network management” – one broadly used form of traffic differentiation – is slowly becoming an inherent and important part of the definition of Network Neutrality in regulations around the world.
We are pleased to have been invited to become a part of BITAG. We will continue to contribute to the discussion of topics like traffic differentiation on our own, but it is an exciting opportunity to stand alongside the technical experts from all participants in the Internet commons and speak with one voice. We look forward to working on the next report.