5% of users consume 50% of Internet bandwidth

Slate has an article about a phenomenon that network administrators have known for many years: a handful of Internet users gobble up a huge portion of bandwidth. Five percent of users typically consume 50% of a service provider's total capacity.

This may sound like bad news, but after toying for years with really poorly thought out policies like just cutting users off without notice, some of the providers are beginning to implement bandwidth pricing changes. For a basic DSL or cable modem subscription, you get so many gigabits per month. If you use more than that, they turn the meter on and start charging you by the gigabit used.

This is the first step towards a more rational approach to charging for network use. Instead of punishing their best customers (the old policy), the service providers are finally implementing price policies that communicate the real cost of bandwidth to users. So users can have all the bits they want, but they have to pay for them.

Eventually, most networks will move away from this model and towards a service oriented model, which is already happening in places like Danville, Virginia and the Blue Ridge Crossroads area of southwest Virginia. Businesses and residential users are really only interested in services, and forcing them to calculate how many bits a phone call or a YouTube video will use up is an inconvenience. What would work better is simply placing a price on the service, rather than on the bits used by that service. This is already beginning to happen with things like VoIP phone service, and as IP TV availability increases, charging by the bit will gradually disappear. For now, it is a step in the right direction.

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