Companies block streaming sites to free more bandwidth

More companies are trying to reserve Wi-Fi for work, not play.

Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble this month shut down access for its 129,000 employees to the streaming music service Pandora and the movie site Netflix.

The company discovered P&G employees were watching 50,000 YouTube videos and listening to 4,000 hours of music on Pandora on a typical work day, choking its digital pipeline, according to an internal memo.

“We need to ensure our network resources and capacity stay ahead of our business demand,” said Patrick Blair, a P&G spokesman.

The company has not blocked sites such as YouTube and Facebook that it uses for business purposes.

Streaming entertainment applications are the primary driver of North American fixed access networks, accounting for 60 percent of peak downstream traffic last year, up from 50 percent in 2010, according to Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena Report.

Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” feature accounts for 32.7 percent of peak period downstream traffic and 23.3 percent of daily aggregate traffic, the report said.

NBC this week announced plans to stream the entire 2012 Summer Olympics in London, allowing viewers to watch all 32 sports live on their computers.

“We spend a good amount of money every year on bandwidth, and every year we have to spend more because, the way the Internet is structured, it is consuming more and more bandwidth because it is offering us more rich content,” said Tom Skill, University of Dayton associate provost and chief information officer.

Business bandwidth demands are increasing as more companies move their data to remote server-based cloud computing, said Leigh Sandy, vice president of Dayton Internet service provider Donet and a board member of Technology First, an information technology trade association.

“Their applications are going outside their offices, so they are having to rely on their Internet connections more and more for critical business,” he said.

Bandwidth types and costs can vary, with prices ranging from $25 to $100 per megabits per second (Mbit/s) depending on factors such as volume and quality, Sandy said.

Netflix movie or YouTube video streams take up 3 Mbit/s, or more if they are high-definition, Sandy said. Pandora audio streams are smaller at 150 kilobits per second, “but they are constant,” he said.

As businesses increase their budgets to buy more reliable bandwidth, some are taking a closer look at employee use of the Internet and cutting out traffic that is not business critical.

“We constantly monitor our network performance,” said Tom Schwartz, a spokesman for Reynolds and Reynolds, a Dayton-based automobile dealer support company.

Reynolds and Reynolds’ 1,300 local associates have wide access to external web sites they need to do their jobs, but company policy prohibits entertainment and non-business-related web sites. Access to non-industry sites is granted “on an as-needed basis,” he said.

Blair said blocking Netflix and Pandora has improved P&G’s bandwidth capacity. “Further, it helped raise awareness of the increasing bandwidth demand, and we were encouraged by employees’ own ideas to preserve bandwidth,” he said.

Companies such as P&G also are watching the use of employee smartphones on their wireless networks. Sandy said workers who want to listen to streaming audio services on their mobile phones should do so using their own cellular networks.

“It’s their bandwidth; they’ve paid for it,” he said.

Large institutions such as universities and hospitals are less likely to limit access to bandwidth-hogging web sites because they serve diverse populations that also include students or patients, Skill said.

UD uses a caching server that monitors high-bandwidth network activity and provides the school’s 6,000 residents access to streaming media content from its data center, rather than using the Internet to serve each student. “You really can’t really tell them they can’t do it, so we try to accommodate them as best we can,” Skill said.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2419 or dlarsen@DaytonDailyNews.com.

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