ITPA Comment: Net neutrality under threat from latest NBN Co. gamers dog whistle
ITPA Comment: Net neutrality under threat from latest NBN Co. gamers dog whistle
NBN’s hint at potential ‘grooming’ of gamers for excessive bandwidth usage a clear breach of consumer rights and a regression to the sort of uninformed technical discourse not seen since the 1990s.
Independent industry association, IT Professionals Association (ITPA) is appalled at attempts by NBN Co. CEO, Bill Morrow to land the blame for congestion and service degradation on its fixed wireless network, at the feet of gamers and rejects the concept of rationing data usage as a solution to the problem.
ITPA President, Robert Hudson said that comments made by Morrow during a Parliamentary Enquiry in Sydney, were misinformed, ill-conceived and bordering on breaching core foundation principles of the internet in terms of neutrality and independence.
In answering questions from the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) that is looking into NBN progress, Morrow said that consideration is being given to “grooming” excessive users, which basically means throttling them back in times of peak demand to limit the impact on overall user experience.
“NBN is facing a range of technical configuration and congestion issues on its HFC and fixed wireless networks and has found that the easiest way to deflect blame is to demonise a section of the online community that is only using what it paid for,” Hudson said. “The problems it is experiencing are a lot closer to home.
“They are under-provisioning backhaul to their fixed wireless hubs that service their customers and that is a planning issue not a usage issue.
“Given the wholesale pricing structure back to RSPs, there is no excuse for them to be under-provisioning bandwidth and wireless node capabilities to fixed wireless hubs.
“Basically, NBN Co. got caught on the hop by unexpected bandwidth usage on the fixed wireless network. Rather than groom the top speed tier of fixed wireless subscribers to level out service quality of all users, they should just be provisioning what users are paying for.
“Effectively, the issue isn't a technical one, or even a complex one - it's a business one. They bet on the fixed wireless footprint consuming less data than they actually pay for and considering the number of fixed wireless users was vastly increased thanks to the multi technology mix redesign, that is a shocking miscalculation.”
“It is totally outrageous for NBN Co. to blame gamers for the problems and worse that they think it is OK to hobble the services consumers have bought in good faith, based on their usage preferences.
“If someone has paid for 24/7 unlimited data, then it is none of NBN’s business what they are using that unlimited data on and when they are accessing it.”
“Further, it is a ridiculously uninformed comment to suggest that online gaming is the problem when it uses as little as 5 per cent of the bandwidth used by premium video streaming services such as Stan and Netflix.
“Even the most data-intensive games would use significantly less data than someone binge watching Game of Thrones as an on-demand video service at low data quality levels. So, why vilify the online gaming community in this manner?”
Hudson asserts that, should the NBN start rationing data to people - irrespective of which data plan they have paid - the issues are even more far-reaching in terms of protecting internet independence.
“This also comes down to the issue of net neutrality,” he said. “If service providers are going to groom certain customers who are using their paid-for data in a certain way, where does it stop?
“The whole concept of net neutrality is that one type of traffic should not be given preference over another. If today it's gamers who are throttled, next it might be something more political or commercial in motivation.
“Tomorrow it could be Netflix or Stan streaming services or the ABC or The Guardian news services because powerful donators petition Government to defend Foxtel and/or traditional media or worse, a Government starts gagging dissenting news reportage.”
Hudson also pointed out that the NBN itself even contradicts that gamers are the problem in a blog post on its website. The blog says: "Where streaming 4K video can use as much as 7 gigabytes (GB) per hour and high-quality audio streaming gets up to around 125 megabytes (MB) per hour, (but usually sits at around half that), certain online games use as little as 10MB per hour."
“The notion that online gaming consumes more bandwidth than other activities - especially streaming media, but even things like video conferencing - is ludicrously misinformed,” Hudson said. “This is taking us back to the level of uninformed discourse we saw when that great luddite, Richard Alston was the Liberal Minister for Communications, IT and the Arts and claimed that people only wanted to use broadband for ‘watching porn’.”
“We deserve better from the people in charge of the most significant technology project on the history of this country and is sadly symbolic of the shambles the NBN has become.”
The Information Technology Professionals Association (ITPA) was formed in 2016 as an evolution of the System Administrators Guild of Australia (SAGE-AU), which was founded in 1993. Since launching, ITPA has grown to now include over 18,000 members. Led and populated by IT professionals who are currently working in the industry, ITPA aims to be a trusted source of advice, knowledge, and information about the IT industry for enterprise, government, media, and society. It is in tune with the latest industry developments, focused on growing career opportunities for Australian IT professionals and willing to challenge government policy that inhibits the growth of the Australian IT Industry.
Additional comments from Robert Hudson on NBN’s fixed wireless bandwidth issues:
Morrow digs deeper into the hole
NBN Co. responded to public outcry and media coverage of Morrow’s JSC appearance with a press statement the following day. Hudson said that unfortunately, the press statement still insists that it is gamers that are the problem which is clearly naive.
“I don't think he defends himself well here,” Hudson said. “Morrow states that gamers are ‘predominantly’ the problem and that the solution is to haver their usage ‘shaped’ in the busy period.
“Worse still, he then tries to divert from the real issue, which is provisioning of bandwidth, by making the issue about the ‘terabytes of data’ being consumed by ‘super users’. This is either terribly uninformed or deliberately deceptive, take your pick.
“Whilst there is certainly a relationship between data volumes and bandwidth, NBN has no reason to count absolute data volume consumption as a cause as it is not a metric of concern to them.
Not a user problem, it’s a provisioning problem
“RSPs pay for data by volume, but nbn does not. So, ‘terabytes of data’ is only an issue for NBN when it is consumed at a rate that it has not provisioned enough bandwidth for despite having sold services that entitle consumers to have that high level of access.
“The bottom line on nbn Co.’s problem is that they have provisioned insufficient backhaul to fixed wireless connection points, or they have too many users per radio device. Given the price and structure of Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) arrangements with RSPs, there is no excuse for them to be under-provisioning bandwidth to fixed wireless hubs.
“Rather than admitting and addressing the fact that RSP CVC is causing the bottleneck, NBN Co. has instead taken it upon themselves to restrict what users can do on their services.”
In another confusing statement, Morrow blames "concurrency" as the problem. This is where multiple consumers of bandwidth are all online at the one time. This is also an irrelevant statement according to Hudson.
“Of course, there are going to be multiple users online at obvious peak times,” Hudson said. “These users have paid for 24x7 access, and as such have a right to use their service at whatever time they choose,” he said. “It is NBN's job to ensure there are no bottlenecks between the user Access Virtual Circuit (AVC) and the RSP CVC irrespective of the time of day.
The solution is simple
“They have failed in this endeavour. I believe the solution to the issue is simple. NBN Co. needs to remove itself as the bottleneck. This can be achieved by either installing more backhaul to cover peak usage patterns, or by installing sufficient radio gear to ensure the fixed wireless network is not oversubscribed.
“I also take issue with comments made in the media, in defence of NBN, by people who should know better that no network is designed to cope with peak loads. Absolute rubbish. The fact is that all competently designed and operated networks MUST cope with peak demands. Failure to do so is simply unacceptable.
“When insufficient CVC bandwidth was paid for by RSPs, NBN was quick to blame them for not provisioning sufficient capacity for their users' needs (of course ignoring the issue of their CVC pricing, until they turned around and offered discounted CVC bandwidth to RSPs).
“This latest comment by Morrow, and NBN Co.'s transparent attempts to defend and deny indefensible statements are just the latest in a long line of terrible blunders by the organisation and its leadership.
“Hopefully when Morrow leaves we might end up with a CEO who has the nation's interests at the forefront of his mind as well as in his remuneration KPIs.
“Right now, we are (yet again) suffering for the LNP Government’s insistence to change direction mid-track once they were elected and build the NBN on the cheap. Subsequent measures to cut costs and cut corners on quality deployment are leading to sub-standard outcomes for the Australian public.
“This has to stop, or we will have to rip it all up and start again.”