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The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) has identified a need to develop a set of guidelines and recommendations relating to the meaning of broadband terminology. ISPA’s Code of Conduct working group was tasked with developing an initial set of guidelines and recommendations for further discussion, and this document is the result.
The objective of this document is to help to kickstart the process of establishing a shared understanding between ISPs, consumers, IT journalists and advertising authorities in interpreting words like “uncapped”, “shaped” and the like when these are used to advertise or describe broadband services. ISPA strongly believes that this will be to the benefit of both ISPA members and consumers of broadband services.
It should be noted that the Internet market tends to change reasonably rapidly. Some of these guidelines may need revision quite quickly, and other types of services are likely to emerge which do not fall neatly in the categories set out below. ISPA reserves the right to update this document as the need arises and in response to input received.
The most important principles for the provision and marketing of broadband services should be transparency and clear communication with current and potential customers.
The nature of the service that is being provided to the customer, any relevant restrictions on that service and the costs for the service should be clearly communicated to customers in any marketing material (where feasible given the advertising medium). Consumers should have sufficient information to make informed decisions about which service will best meet their needs and what that service will cost them.
An ISP’s terms and conditions and/or an acceptable use policy must be readily available to customers and should be kept up-to-date if an ISP launches new products or services.
This section contains a guide to the common technical terms used in connection with broadband:
A broadband Internet access service is a service which provides access to the Internet with a minimum download speed of 256 kbps.
A service can be broadband regardless of the technology employed to provide the service, for example, DSL, wireless, wifi, cellular or satellite.
Note that the minimum speed referred to is linked to the minimum download speed – which may differ from the minimum upload speed – as services are generally marketed with reference to this download speed.
Because broadband speeds can vary according to a wide variety of factors, speeds are required to be marketed with reference to the maximum possible download speed, e.g. “Up to 4Mbs”.
ISPA notes that the minimum speed chosen here is quite low. It has been chosen to match the definition in the Department of Communication’s published National Broadband Policy which is, in turn, based on the ITU’s definition of broadband for developing markets. The accepted minimum speed of broadband services in many developed markets is much higher, and ISPA looks forward to being able to revise this number upwards in the future, as minimum South African broadband speeds increase.
3.2. Local and international
Local traffic is traffic originating on the network of a South African ISP which is destined for another South African IP network, and which will most likely be carried across interconnection links/Internet exchange points located in South Africa.
International traffic is traffic originating on the network of a South African ISP which is destined for an IP network located outside of the country (or vice versa), and which will most likely be carried across international Internet links.
It must be emphasised that these meanings reflect only how things work under normal circumstances. National traffic may be routed internationally under certain circumstances, for example, as an alternative if a particular carrier service is down.
Largely for historical reasons, South African ISPs have sometimes differentiated between “local” access, which generally means access to other South Africa networks, and “international” access, which generally means access to networks outside of the country. Similarly, “local traffic” generally means Internet Protocol (“IP”) traffic destined for (or coming from) local IP networks, and “international traffic” generally means IP traffic destined for (or coming from) international IP networks.
However, upon closer inspection “local” versus “international” is slightly more complicated than this on a technical level, and depends to some extent on the technical configuration of an ISP’s network, and on that ISP’s connections to other ISPs. To illustrate this, consider the example of an ISP (“ISP X”) which connects to “ISP Y” via the Johannesburg Internet exchange (JINX), but doesn’t have a direct peering agreement with “ISP Z”. Traffic between the networks of ISPs “X” and “Z” may therefore pass over international links before arriving back on the target network. A pertinent question is thus: Would this traffic be considered international or local?
Adding to the local vs. international complexity is the fact that traffic routes are not static, and may change based on network congestion, link failures and network traffic patterns. Hence, on occasion, “local” traffic might transit international links, even though it would typically travel across a local interconnection link.
3.3. Traffic shaping
Traffic shaping is the deliberate limitation or prioritisation of some types of Internet traffic or certain Internet protocols over others.
It should be noted that traffic shaping can be implemented either to provide a customer with a specific type of service (for example, by providing a service which specifically prioritises services used for online gaming or to penalise a customer (for example, by limiting peer-to-peer traffic protocols for users who have exceeded the terms of acceptable use). Traffic shaping is sometimes referred to as “traffic prioritisation”, usually when it is being implemented on the customer’s request.
Traffic shaping is usually aimed at giving priority to web browsing, email services and normal downloading via web browsers and lower priority to bandwidth intense applications such as peer to peer applications. Traffic shaping is used as a means of managing a network, keeping the cost of the service under control and of preventing a small number of customers from placing a disproportionate burden on the network or negatively affecting the overall user experience on the network.
3.4. Contention ratio
The contention ratio of an Internet access service means the total capacity sold to customers versus the total capacity the service provider has provisioned to service those customers.
In general terms “contention ratio” is used as an indication of the total capacity (or bandwidth or traffic) an ISP sells to its customers, versus the total upstream capacity (or bandwidth or traffic) an ISP has available to service those customers. For example, if an ISP sells 100 users a 1 Mbps service (total sold = 100 Mbps) and provisions 5 Mbps to service these customers, then the contention ratio would be 20:1. Note that this doesn’t mean that each user only gets 1/20th of the total 5 Mbps, because not all customers use the service at the same time. ISPs also use caching servers and bandwidth optimisation technologies to optimise shared usage of upstream links.
Different services on an ISP’s network may also have different contention ratios. An ISP might have a 10:1 contention ratio for capped DSL services, but a 30:1 contention ratio for uncapped DSL services. There could be different contention ratios for uploads and downloads. Different parts of an ISP’s network might also have different contention ratios. One contention ratio might measure the total capacity into an upstream provider’s DSL cloud versus the total capacity of DSL services the ISP has sold to those customers, but a different contention ratio might measure the amount of international capacity available to those same customers.
In summary, “contention ratio” can mean a number of different things, depending on the context, and the figure presented can be very difficult to verify. The usefulness of this term for consumers is therefore debatable.
3.5. Family friendly services
A family friendly Internet access service is one where the ISP provides the customer with a filtered access service, or the ability to set-up filters on the content or types of content available to that customer. Such services restrict the customer’s access to content which is deemed undesirable for children, and may offer other filtering options.
ISPA’s Code of Conduct requires that all members make information on protecting children available to their customers. Some ISPs go further than this, offering access services where specific content is filtered or blocked.
ISPs offering “family friendly” services should specify what sort of content filtering or blocking is implemented for customers of that service and should clearly indicate any limitations on the effectiveness of the filters.
This document divides broadband services into four categories, as follows:
These four types of service are defined in more detail below. Please note that ISPA recognises that other types of services may be offered and that ISPA members are in no manner required to divide up their services in this manner.
ISPA wishes to emphasise that the above characterisation is intended as a guide to understanding broad categories of service and it
4.1. Unrestricted, uncapped Internet access
Characteristics of an “unrestricted, uncapped” Internet access service are as follows:
4.2. Uncapped Internet access
Characteristics of an “uncapped” Internet access service are as follows:
4.3. Capped Internet access: Soft cap
Characteristics of a soft capped Internet access service are as follows:
4.4. Capped Internet access: Hard cap
Characteristics of an Internet access service which only has a hard cap are as follows:
4.5. Mixed services
Some ISPs offer services which are a mixture of the above four. For example, an ISP might provide a service which is “uncapped” during the day but becomes “unrestricted, uncapped” at night. In these cases, ISPs should clearly specify the time period that each type of service applies.
The following general recommendations are made to help ISPA members to promote consistency in the use of broadband terms:
The following recommendations relate to the categories of services defined in this document:
This is a discussion document, and comment from ISPA members (and other interested parties) is actively solicited. Please send any comments you have to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributors to this document include: Ant Brooks, Calvin Browne, Dominic Cull, Roelf Diedericks, Marc Furman, Antony Futter, David Gentleman, Lynne Orrock, Bretton Vine, Elaine Zinn, Patrick Holahan, Henk Kleynhans, Jaap Scholten and Wilmari Hannie.
Special thanks to David Gentleman for the first draft of all of the broadband definitions.