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Piracy down, streaming up, internet 'broken'

Illegal filesharing in the UK has fallen dramatically, according to media and technology researchers at Music Ally.The analyst firm published a study on Monday that showed a drop of a quarter in the numbers of those who regularly fileshared, between December 2007 and January 2009.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Illegal filesharing in the UK has fallen dramatically, according to media and technology researchers at Music Ally.

The analyst firm published a study on Monday that showed a drop of a quarter in the numbers of those who regularly fileshared, between December 2007 and January 2009. The trend was particularly pronounced among 14-18-year-olds — at the earlier date, 42 percent were filesharing at least once a month, but at the latter date only 26 percent were doing so.

At the same time, streaming music services appear to be taking off.

"The move to streaming — e.g. YouTube, MySpace and Spotify — is clear with the research showing that many teens (65 percent) are streaming music regularly (i.e. each month)," the researchers wrote. "Nearly twice as many 14-18s (31 percent) listen to streamed music on their computer every day compared to music fans overall (18 percent). More fans are regularly sharing burned CDs and bluetoothing tracks to each other than file-sharing tracks."

Spotify is ad-funded, and is rapidly expanding its catalogue. The service is even namechecked in the Digital Britain report, along with Last FM, as showing "that where the system is failing to serve the needs of users, innovative business models will develop to fill the gap". Music Ally's figures appear to suggest that these new models are at least partially responsible for fighting piracy.

However, a move to streaming could have implications for the functioning of the internet. Larry Roberts, one of the inventors of packet-switching and the ARPANet, wrote in this month's IEEE Spectrum that the internet is broken ("I should know: I designed it") because traditional packet-based routing is not built for streaming services.

"Unlike e-mail and static Web pages, which can handle network hiccups, voice and video deteriorate under transmission delays as short as a few milliseconds," Roberts wrote. "And therein lies the problem with traditional IP packet routers: They can't guarantee that a YouTube clip will stream smoothly to a user's computer. They treat the video packets as loose data entities when they ought to treat them as flows."

Roberts argued that, while past overprovision by operators meant today's users were not yet seeing serious problems with streaming services, "things are already dire for many internet service providers and network operators".

"Keeping up with bandwidth demand has required huge outlays of cash to build an infrastructure that remains underutilized," he wrote. "To put it another way, we've thrown bandwidth at a problem that really requires a computing solution."

The solution, according to Roberts, is something called flow management, which he is developing at his start-up, Anagran. The company has a "flow manager", the FR-1000, which Roberts says "can replace routers and DPI systems or may simply be added to existing networks".

Roberts ends his article by recanting his claim ("Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration") that the internet is broken. "But the 40-year-old router sure needs an overhaul," he concludes.

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