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Phuket Live Wire: Why are we being throttled?

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Continuing my series of articles answering questions that I hear most often… the next question has to do with internet speeds here in Phuket, as measured on the Phuket Internet Speed reporting site phuketinternetspeed.com:

“Woody, I’ve read your articles in the Phuket Gazette. I understand why we’re measuring international download speeds – for most farang and many Thais, international Internet speeds are more important than domestic speeds. I understand why we’re using the specific speed test that’s been set up – because many speed tests that claim to measure speeds outside of Thailand don’t: the Internet Service Providers cache those tests, so they only measure speeds to Bangkok.

“That’s what I understand. Here’s what I don’t get. Two things, actually. First, why do all of the TOT packages give basically the same international speed? You’d think that people who are paying a fortune for fiber optic connections would get much faster international service than the ones like me who only spend 499 baht for a cheap line.

“Second, why are the speeds on 3BB lines so much faster than everybody else? Even the cheap 3BB lines are five times as fast on international download as the other telephone companies.”

Good questions, and I think I finally have some answers.

It all comes down to something called network neutrality. It’s a hot topic in the U.S. and Europe right now, and it’s going to become more prominent in Asia soon.

Net neutrality basically means that your Internet Service Provider can’t play favorites. You get the speed you pay for, but your ISP can’t jiggle things around so some services work slower than others. Net neutrality also says that your ISP can’t restrict content, sites, platforms, types of equipment that can be attached to the network, or modes of communication over the network.

Right now, in the U.S., people are trying to pass laws that require ISPs to keep their hands off Internet connections. If a customer wants to download a ton of files, the laws say, their ISP isn’t allowed to slow them down just because they’re using a lot of data. Similarly, an ISP in the US that provides television or movies for rent isn’t allowed to slow down access to Netflix.

As you might imagine, the ISPs don’t like the laws, and so far they’ve been very successful at keeping them from being passed.

In Thailand, we have the same net neutrality concerns as in the rest of the world, but we have one more wrinkle that I’ve never seen discussed.

In Thailand, we have a problem with ISPs throttling international access. It’s a bit odd, but the inescapable fact is that ISPs here intentionally cut back on international download speeds, regardless of demand.

If Thailand had a net neutrality law, ISPs would (probably) be required to simply open up the international data pipes and let data flow without restriction. Sure there should be some way to slice things up so customers with more expensive plans would get a larger slice of the available pie. But speeds would only be held back by the limits imposed by the size of the pipe.

Based on my experiments and the speeds we’ve seen reported on phuketinternetspeed.com, it’s become apparent to me that ISPs in Phuket arbitrarily restrict international data speeds.

Which brings me to the rather comical situation with TOT. For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, TOT has decided to put the same international speed restriction on all of its customers, regardless of which plan they have, or how much they pay. Thus, the rather bizarre situation you can see in the graph on this page, where people paying a pittance for their TOT lines get the same international download speeds as those paying through the nose for a 20mbps fiber optic line.

Is the fiber line faster? Yes, sure. On domestic hops, fiber’s much faster than the cheap ADSL lines. But if you spend most of your time working outside of Thailand, there isn’t much reason to spend a lot more for a fiber connection.

Looking back at the data on phuketinternetspeed.com – which you can download and massage for yourself – I’m now reasonably certain that somebody at TOT decided to throttle international connections for fiber optic customers around October of last year. That explains the abrupt fall in fiber optic speeds I described in my Live Wire column last November. More than that, it looks like all TOT customers get throttled in the same way: when somebody at TOT threw the switch to cut back Fiber customers, they applied the same throttling as all of the other TOT customers. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s exactly what it looks like.

Next, consider the peculiar case of 3BB. I honestly don’t know if we should feel flattered or swindled, but it looks like 3BB has poked a hole in the throttling for one specific internet address, and that has led to 3BBs extraordinary speed results on the test site.

Let me explain. On phuketinternetspeed.com, we all run one specific speed test to one specific location, in Los Angeles. That makes the test results reasonably replicable, both across different ISPs, and month to month. The speed reporting site has turned into a valuable crowd sourced tool for seeing how well various ISPs perform at different locations around the island.

3BB has been watching what we’re doing, and as best I can tell, they’ve decided to jimmy the results. Based on my tests, it looks like 3BB is throttling international access from Phuket to every single site around the world, except for one. And that one site with the spigot wide open just happens to be the site we’re using for speed tests. Clever.

If you run our standard speed test on a 3BB connection, the speed you see is the fastest possible speed to that site in Los Angeles, with no throttling. Frequently, that’s four or five times as fast as most other ISPs. By simply opening the flood gates for this one site, 3BB has done an admirable job of stacking the deck in their favor. At the same time, they’ve also demonstrated how fast their international lines could be, if they would just stopped throttling international access.

The bottom line is that you can’t compare 3BB’s results in our tests with any other ISP’s, and you can’t rely on our speed test to give you a fair idea of international speeds from 3BB.

I haven’t yet figured out how to make our test immune to this kind of fudging, but at the same time I’m flattered that 3BB puts enough stock in our speed results to goose its numbers. That actually bodes well for Phuket – somebody’s listening to our complaints.

With Woody hunkered down writing a book, the weekly Computer Clinics are taking a new turn. Until Woody emerges with an 860-page copy of “Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies” under his arm, around May or June, Seth Bareiss will hold computer sessions every-other Wednesday afternoon, from 1 to 3pm. If you have a Windows problem that needs to be solved, drop by one of Seth’s free afternoon sessions at the Sandwich Shoppes. Details in the Phuket Gazette Events Calendar.

Sponsored by the Phuket Gazette and Khun Woody’s Sandwich Shoppes.

Live Wire is Gazette columnist Woody Leonhard’s weekly snapshot of all things internet in Phuket.

Follow him on Twitter: @PhuketLiveWire; “like” pages at facebook.com/SandwichShoppe; and — Woody Leonhard

 

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