Theses Doctoral

Internet Subscription Plans: Thresholding, Throttling, and Zero-Rating

Bayat, Niloofar

Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, like any other rational entity make decisions to maximize their profit. While some of their decisions are on how to attract customers, they inevitably need to control how much resources consumers utilize. In this dissertation, we focus on two different aspects of ISP's decisions, including bandwidth allocation and pricing techniques through which ISPs manage allotting their limited capacity to users with high demand, and zero-rating, which can be one of the tools through which the ISP can attract customers.

For bandwidth allocation, this dissertation discusses the data plans available for each user's monthly billing cycle. Within those, the ISPs guarantee a fixed amount of data at high rates until a byte threshold is reached, at which point the user's data rate is throttled to a lower rate for the remainder of the cycle. In practice, the thresholds and rates of throttling can appear and may be somewhat arbitrary. In this dissertation, we evaluate the choice of threshold and rate as an optimization problem (regret minimization) and demonstrate that intuitive formulations of client regret, which preserve desirable fairness properties, lead to optimization problems that have tractably computable solutions.

For zero-rating options in the ISP market, and their relation to net neutrality, we begin by introducing the concept of zero-rating, which refers to the practice of providing free Internet access to some users under certain conditions, and usually concurs with differentiation among users or content providers. Even though zero-rating is banned in some countries (India, Canada), others have either taken no stance or explicitly allowed it (South Africa, Kenya, U.S.). While there is broad agreement that preserving the content quality of service falls under the purview of net neutrality, the role of differential pricing, especially the practice of \emph{zero-rating} remains controversial. An objective of net neutrality is to design regulations for the Internet and ensure that it remains a public, open platform where innovations can thrive. We show the practice of zero-rating does not agree with that. This dissertation shows how ISPs could make zero-rating decisions to attract customers, and then show how these decisions may negatively impact the market and customer welfare, which necessitates the existence of some zero-rating regulations.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Computer Science
Thesis Advisors
Rubenstein, Daniel Stuart
Misra, Vishal
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 27, 2022