Why software vendors should disclose their apps' bandwidth consumption

Bandwidth is power, and it should be treated as such.

Credit: Netflix

Bandwidth is to networked applications what electricity is to household appliances—it is the power (or fuel) that makes applications go. Just as different contraptions within a household consume different amounts of electricity, different applications consume different amounts of bandwidth. As a refrigerator uses more power than a light bulb, a high-definition video streaming application consumes orders of magnitude more bandwidth than an email application—and just as different refrigerators consume varying wattage per hour, different applications within a genre (e.g., streaming video apps like Netflix and YouTube) consume varying megabytes per hour.

There is a well-established mechanism to determine how much power household gadgets consume (the information is physically embossed or printed on the appliance), but there is no good source of information about bandwidth consumption for the countless networked applications in use on the Internet. The information is hard to impossible to come by, and when it does exist, it is often confusing to apply to a realistic household usage scenario.

What is needed is a bandwidth-usage labeling system like the energy-usage labeling system. Device manufacturers provide energy consumption information. Similarly, software vendors should provide bandwidth-consumption information, and their information should be vetted by an independent third party.

Because bandwidth has been perceived as an infinite resource, it has not been deemed necessary to require application vendors to provide information about how much bandwidth their applications consume. But with Netflix now consisting of a third of all U.S. Internet traffic during the evening hours, it is apparent that bandwidth isn’t the infinite resource many thought, and users have a right to know how much bandwidth their mix of applications consumes.

The time has come to define a standard way to label Internet application consumption, and to require application vendors to provide bandwidth consumption labels so users can estimate how much bandwidth their households use. We have proposed a framework for such a labelling standard (PDF).

We think application consumption transparency is a basic right for Internet users, and that application vendors should supply the information. What do you think?

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