TECH TALK Deal­ing With Data Caps and Proxy Caches

THIS PAST MONTH, I did some­thing I’ve never man­aged be­fore: I went over the 1TB data al­lowance that comes with my In­ter­net ser­vice. There was no fee—this time—but my data use has been on an up­ward track for decades, and it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore 1

Maximum PC - - QUICKSTART - Jarred Wal­ton Jarred Wal­ton has been a PC and gam­ing en­thu­si­ast for over 30 years.

My In­ter­net speeds in­creased from 20Mb/s to 300Mb/s over the past 15 years. In that same pe­riod, PC games moved from CDs and DVDs to dig­i­tal down­loads, and 2–6GB in­stalls to 50GB and more. Video driv­ers can up­date sev­eral times a month, at 400MB a pop. Cut the cable TV and move to stream­ing video, and that can be hun­dreds of GB ev­ery month, with 4K streams us­ing even more. Don’t for­get to back up all your data in the cloud, which in my case hap­pens over a pal­try 12Mb/s up­stream con­nec­tion.

I’ve never liked the idea of data caps, and look­ing at smart­phones only re­in­forces how bad it can get. 4G/LTE can down­load at speeds of sev­eral hun­dred Mb/s, but most “un­lim­ited” plans throt­tle your speed af­ter 22GB per month of data. You could ex­ceed that in just over 30 min­utes. It’s not that you’d nor­mally chew through that much data on a smart­phone, but the tele­coms love this sort of pric­ing model, and would be happy to ap­ply it to high-speed In­ter­net con­nec­tions. And in the post-net neu­tral­ity world, pay­ing more for my In­ter­net seems in­evitable.

With mul­ti­ple PCs for test­ing pur­poses, each grab­bing the same game patches and Win­dows 10 up­dates, it can add up to hun­dreds of GB per month. Not con­tent to sit back and watch the data us­age con­tinue to climb, I took mat­ters into my own hands, and set up a re­verse proxy cache. I put to­gether a PC with a 1TB SSD cache, and looked for so­lu­tions.

There are a few prob­lems, like the fact that most web traf­fic is now HTTPS (SSL en­crypted), so a proxy can’t do any­thing to cache fre­quently ac­cessed web pages. Even for non-en­crypted files, con­tent de­liv­ery net­works (CDNs) mean you could get the same file from mul­ti­ple sources. Thank­fully, smart peo­ple have done a lot a lot to ad­dress such prob­lems, and Steam­cache, Steam-Squid, Lan­cache, and other open-source projects re­duce the amount of work.

I ended up run­ning De­bian Linux with Lan­cache in­stalled. It al­most worked. Or rather, it al­most worked with­out a bunch of ad­di­tional futz­ing about, and now sev­eral days later it mostly works. My main prob­lem is my ISP, which runs its own Steam proxy cache. That wouldn’t be so bad, ex­cept it uses SSL en­cryp­tion (un­like Steam’s nor­mal CDNs), so my own proxy would get di­rected to the ISP proxy, open an SSL con­nec­tion, and not cache any of the re­sult­ing files. The so­lu­tion was to block my sys­tem from see­ing the ISP prox­ies, but that’s not a per­fect so­lu­tion—Steam down­loads hap­pen at about 50–100Mb/s, for ex­am­ple. At least Ori­gin, UPlay, Bl­iz­zard, and sev­eral other gam­ing plat­forms work fine, along with Mi­crosoft’s Win­dows Up­date servers.

Still, I find it grat­ing that my ISP wants to limit its ex­ter­nal data use by run­ning a Steam proxy cache, yet in do­ing so it in­ter­feres with my own at­tempts to do the same thing. Even more ir­ri­tat­ing is the data cap in the first place. Yes, I’m in the top 1 per­cent of data users, I’m sure of that. Maybe I should be charged ex­tra… ex­cept I’m al­ready pay­ing $30 per month for a faster In­ter­net con­nec­tion. I can choose from In­ter­net speeds of 15Mb/s to 400Mb/s, but all of those in­clude the same 1TB data cap. You could the­o­ret­i­cally down­load 1TB in about a week with a 15Mb/s con­nec­tion, while the 60Mb/s con­nec­tion would only take a day and a half. My 300Mb/s con­nec­tion? I could blow through my en­tire data al­lowance in one work­ing day of eight hours.

There’s no truly un­lim­ited 1Gb/s con­nec­tion in my area. There’s only one other ISP as well, ex­cept it’s a DSL provider with speeds that top out at 40Mb/s. End­ing net neu­tral­ity is not go­ing to help peo­ple like me who are stuck with a sin­gle provider.

I could blow through my en­tire data al­lowance in one work­ing day of eight hours.

Are rou­tine data cap over­charges the fu­ture of our post-net neu­tral­ity In­ter­net?

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