Bits for bucks

By Robert Currier, ITworld.com |  Business

In his last article, my fellow ITworld.com columnist Stan Schatt considered charging users
based on the amount of bandwidth they consumed. Bits for bucks? Stan, what were you
thinking?

People have been proposing metering network usage for years. To date, every system
proposed has consumed huge amounts of resources, was easily bypassed, and, frankly,
annoyed the heck out of everyone.

What's wrong with charging bucks for bits? Let's take the public highway system as
an example. You don't get charged by miles per hour. If there's a lot of traffic, your
average rate of speed is moderate. If it's late at night and the blacktop is empty,
then you put the pedal down. In either case, even if you're on a toll road, your basic
fees (i.e., federal and state taxes) are the same no matter how fast you drive.

Toll roads charge by distance traveled. Get off on the first exit and you pay only a
little. Drive all the way to the last exit and you'll pay proportionately more --
unless you're in New Jersey, in which case you'll pay an unreasonable amount more, and
you'll get to sit in one place for three hours.

What are the features most identified with a toll road? The tollbooths, of course.
And what do the toll booths look like during busy holiday traffic? A megamall parking
lot the day before Christmas. Trying to apply the tollbooth concept to metering network
traffic will have the same effect: lots and lots of packets queued up, all waiting to
pay their tolls. As Stan pointed out, sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

Now let's imagine a "pay per mile per hour" highway system. Utter chaos.
Human nature dictates that we would see some pretty bizarre behavior develop. Folks
going 25 mph on a 70 mph-rated interstate to save money. People with cash to flash
darting and weaving around the tightwads. Congestion. Collisions. And the network
managers (i.e., the state highway patrol officers) pulling their hair out trying to
clock everyone. No, Stan, there has to be a better way.

Let's leave the networks like the interstates. Put in speed limits in the form of
QoS policies. Make the enforcement of those limits as transparent to the end user as
possible. Make sure there's diversity -- if the interstate is blocked by an accident,
traffic flows through the state and county roads.

Can you imagine what would have happened to our highway system if drivers had been
charged by speed? Nobody would have dared to travel for fear of racking up huge bills.
None of the development that sprung up around each exit would have occurred. We would
be living in a different world. Let's find a better way to recover the costs associated
with providing network service. Don't punish the users, Stan.

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