ABC Playback and quotas

"Sam" comments on Stigherrian's blog about some of his ABC Playback feedback. In particular, he points out that the video is highly compressed because they're mindful of "download caps that the public has to contemplate". There is a solution for this.

Download caps in Australia are a response to the high cost of transit bandwidth. They're a principle that is easy to understand by consumers, but actually bear only a passing relationship with the actual costs of bandwidth. Bandwidth is actually more usually charged, at wholesale level, based on the size of fixed pipe or a pipe's average utilisation. So a gigabyte of download from a consumer is only a cost if it happens at a time when the pipe is under heavy use. Hence the "off-peak" bandwidth allocations from some ISPs.

Now the majority of these costs are for international bandwidth, but the difficulty of determining whether a given chunk of traffic is interntational or local bandwidth, explaining this to consumers and the inevitable disputes led to bandwidth just being charged in a single block. To enhance their offerings, some ISPs offer "free" bandwidth for specific resources, generally ones that are hosted on cheap bandwidth and don't consume any international bandwidth.

The actual bandwidth costs are on a descending scale that looks something like this: international, national (other network), national (own network), ISP's own data centre(s), peering links (but note Telstra refuses to do this), exchange to consumer. So one of the cheapest sources of bandwidth is free peering links, and the ABC sensibly does do such peering.

So the solution here is actually quite simple. The ABC needs to peer with ISPs in a free and open manner, ideally in at least all the major capital cities. The video downloads that will be supplied when ABC Playback is eventually launched would then be a "value add" for ISPs that want to supply it for free.

The BBC has done something exactly like this, though they don't have broadband caps in the UK so it was actually done for rights-management reasons. That way the Beeb can be sure that a consumer ISP service is actually supplied to a UK address, meaning the person has (theoretically) paid the TV Licence fee and so is entitled to the media.

Now there's a problem here that I haven't mentioned. Due to The Chaser vodcasts' popularity last year, the ABC started using Akamai's content distribution network to distribute their multimedia content. This caused my ISP, Internode, to stop including this content in their "unmetered" offering, because they can't distinguish between ABC content and other Akamai-hosted stuff.

It shouldn't be too difficult for the ABC, ISPs and Akamai to come up with a solution, and by offering it on the same basis to all ISPs, there's no conflict with the ABC Charter. It would also mean that the ABC can make available vastly better-quality streams, and be pretty sure that the downloader is Australia-based.

So how about it Auntie?