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BT Boffin on TCP & Broadband Congestion Problems

Posted: 25th Mar, 2008 By: MarkJ
Chief researcher at the BT Network Research Centre, Bob Briscoe, has written a fascinating blog that examines the issue of broadband congestion and how at least part of the problem rests with a "fundamentally broken" TCP (Transmission Control Protocol).

TCP is a key set of rules, usually used alongside the Internet Protocol (IP), to send data between computers over the Internet. It is a crucial piece of foundation for the Internet but one that still uses fundamentally the same methods as it did at its inception.

Briscoe argues that TCP/IP is increasingly running into problems with modern methods of Internet use (P2P applications etc.) and has proposed some interesting solutions. However, there are many political, economic and technical issues to overcome that also run into the net neutrality debate:

Despite the undeniable truth that Jacobson’s TCP congestion avoidance algorithm is fundamentally broken, many academics and now Net Neutrality activists along with their lawyers cling to it as if it were somehow holy and sacred. Groups like the Free Press and Vuze (a company that relies on P2P) files FCC complaints against ISPs (Internet Service Providers) like Comcast that try to mitigate the damage caused by bandwidth hogging P2P applications by throttling P2P. They wag their fingers that P2P throttling is “protocol discrimination” and that it’s a violation of the TCP standards. They tell us that if anyone slows down a P2P application, then they are somehow violating someone’s right to free speech and impinging on their civil rights.

They tell us that reining in bandwidth hogs is actually the ISP’s way of killing the video distribution competition. They tell us that P2P isn’t really a bandwidth hog and that P2P users are merely operating within their contracted peak bitrates. Never mind the fact that no network can ever support continuous peak throughput for anyone and that resources are always shared, they tell us to just throw more money and bandwidth at the problem. They continue to espouse the virtues of P2P applications as “efficient” but what they don’t tell us is that “efficient” means efficiency in bandwidth hogging. They also don’t tell us that P2P is efficient at offloading the costs of video distribution to someone else.

Briscoe's blog is perhaps more for the technically minded but it's still well worth a read:

http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=1078
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