Thursday, March 31, 2011

Usage Based Billing caused by an Internet Bug called Bufferbloat

There has been a lot of talk about Net Neutrality (NN) and Usage Based Billing (UBB) recently. The issue appears to be that as more and more people transfer more and more data, the Internet is getting bogged down. BitTorrent was originally seen as the biggest culprit, although services like NetFlix are now the front-runners. The current thinking is that improving the situation is going to require large investments in the infrastructure.

The problem with that explanation has always been that the math doesn't work out. Although it is true that usage has been going up, the infrastructure has also been increasing at an exponential rate. Given the actual numbers, there is no reason for the Internet to have been slowing down. Yet it is absolutely undeniable that it has. For example, you probably have several times the bandwidth you had five years ago. Does the Internet feel faster to you? For most people, the answer is that it feels decidedly slower.

In the last couple of months, a network engineer working at Bell Labs named Jim Gettys has finally determined why things have been getting slower and slower. He found that there is a bug in the Internet that he has called Bufferbloat.

I'm going to explain Bufferbloat, but Don't Panic! This is a decidedly non-technical explanation. We are going to look at Bufferbloat by using a classic "I Love Lucy" episode.