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Mark Goldberg Raises Questions about the Couchathon – I Attempt to Answer Them

Mark Golgberg has asked some fair questions of me over at his blog regarding last year’s couchathon and the throttling difficulties we had. As I posted yesterday, am convinced those issues were due to misapplied BitTorrent throttling.

I’ve responded directly on Mark’s blog – but he moderates his comments so I’m not sure when they’ll show up there. In the meantime I thought it would be worthwhile to cross-post my response here – especially as I see some traffic coming through from his site.

Incidentally, Mark’s post flagged that I never updated the Couchathon website with the final totals from the event. With late donations, and some very kind post-event sponsor contributions we were able to raise over $10,000 dollars for Sick Kids Foundation and Child’s Play – not the $5,500 posted on the couchathon site. I must go amend that at once!

My response to Mark below the cut.

Hi Mark,

Brad Fox here, and you raise fair questions.

For the record, I did provide more specifics about the incident to anyone who has interviewed me since the hearings but those details rarely make it into the published articles.

Why was this week’s policy hearing the first time we have heard of this problem?

Short Answer: This was the first time a CRTC commissioner has ever asked me, specifically, if traffic discrimination had ever prejudiced my ability to create content.

Long Answer:

Why is this the first we have heard about it, more than 7 months after the event? What is the real story?

There were a number of reasons I chose to not make a public issue of the couchathon throttling at the time.

Part was not wishing to overshadow the event itself (or it’s legacy given that it was essentially a dry run for some future live Internet broadcasting projects).

Part was an issue with certain individuals and companies involved in the couchathon having preexisting business relationships with Bell. This situation has changed somewhat in the intervening eight months, but I also feel there’s a difference between using the event as an important case study, and bringing it up immediately.

Also, if I’m honest, I was almost certain at the time that Bell’s throttling practices would shortly be curtailed via the CAIP CRTC application (the couchathon predated Telcom decision 2008-108 which ruled against CAIP by two weeks).

Exhaustion and fat fingers on an untested platform could have also come into play.

Not impossible, but unlikely. We certainly experienced problems due to sleep deprivation and the nature of the broadcast – but those were in the setup (the issues you mention quoted in the show itself) and then mishaps of the infrequent and unpredictable variety (selecting the wrong camera, closing the irc chat administrator account, the chyron freezing up, a hard drive frying through poor heat management… etc). The throttling issues on the other hand were repeatable cycles that were demonstrably recurrent independent of whatever else was going on at the time – and absent on distinct Bell connections not being used for the video uplink (ruling out broader network issues or overall congestion). As well, they did not appear during the first several hours of broadcast – yet continued recurring regularly thereafter, even when we changed computers entirely at one point (the replacement being a direct image of the original system prior to the commencement of the broadcast).

people going to sleep could also explain the loss of viewers

It’s absolutely likely that some portion of viewer loss each “reset” included viewers who decided to go to bed (or long since walked away from their computers with us still running in the background) – however the drop was consistent each reset – regardless of audience size at the time (and our 4am audience was, for example, a fraction of our 5pm audience). Regardless of the extent of the damage, my point has always been that it was damage. No one, I think, would argue that performance interruption is not disruptive or detrimental to audience experience.

As to your point about chairman von Finckenstein’s question to my collegue Dan Hawes of March Entertainment. I agree quite completely with Dan’s response. – As independent producers we simply don’t have the resources to bring 27(2) challenges every time we feel our traffic is being prejudiced. The independent production sector is in such dire straits that most of us are barely able to keep our heads above water – let alone capable of sustaining protracted legal battles or government challenges. That’s why the CRTC’s oversight of ITMP guidelines is so absolutely critical to myself and my colleagues.