How bandwidth caps will hurt the economy more

I remember the days of dialup networking well. I don’t mean the old AOL/Geni/Compuserve dialup service, I mean “put your funny shaped, wire tethered phone headset down in a cradle and listen to the funny tones squeal while you wait for a handshake” dial up. When network connectivity was difficult, you saved it for important things. You did not squander precious bits without putting thought into it. Modems evolved, and then became incorporated into computers. It was easier to connect, so we shared small pictures,backgrounds for webpages ( usually tiled), animated images and silly sounds. But the connection was still slow and we paid by the hour. Some people even paid twice.. once to the service/ISP and then again in cost per minute to the phone company for the connection. Things like video and online shopping could not take off because the overhead of paying for the connectivity, and the worry that you would run out of minutes and not be able to continue with basics like email. Then came always on, unlimited bandwidth. No longer did I have to dial up to the ISP, wait for the connection and then carefully count the minutes I was online.
With a bigger pipe and free access, the business model for the web changed. Want to share all 1200 pictures from your last vacation with me? Cool. I have all the time I need to sit and admire them, and I know I will still have bits left over to read my email. Someone put videos on thee web? holy crud. Let’s sit and watch, who cares if there are advertisements on the page, these are funny videos!
Busy at work? Need to get birthday presents for your grandma who lives on the other side of the country? Here.. order flowers online- you can page through the images and select one. Not flowers? How about any one of a million other products you can order online and have easily shipped to her? Maybe you would like to buy her one of those nifty products you saw advertised while you were watching the funny videos.
Like to play games> No need to get up from your computer and go to the store to buy and install discs, just buy them over the internet and download them directly to your PC. Why not to your wii? your PS3? Your Xbox? Download them to your console and then move them to your DS or your PSP.
Too busy to go to the store, buy CDs, load them in your computer and then copy them to your mp3 player? No matter. We have many different services where you can buy music directly over the internet and then just download it. You like to buy music? how about music videos? TV shows? Movies? Don’t download it- you can just stream it. Heck, stream it in high definition- why not? Your bandwidth is virtually free!
Soon, it became easier to shop online than to get in your car, drive and interact with grumpy, rude people at the mall. The price of gas went up- you are saving money by staying home, so you can buy more. Right?
The internet is the ultimate impulse buy.
What happens when we go back to that old dial up mentality and we are worried about how many bits are flowing to and from our houses again? Will you let Spore waste your bandwidth uploading and downloading creatures? Will you continue to directly download audio books from the likes of Audible.com? How many ad-supported video podcasts will you download and watch? Will you let your video game console communicate over the net?
Last month, I spent hours and hours looking at images of dresses on the internet while I was shopping for a wedding dress. If I had a cap on my DSL, I never would have done that. Nor would I have bought the dress online from the merchant I did. What will happen to iPod hardware sales if people are concerned about how much they are downloading from iTunes or Amazon.com to put on it? What about your cell phone that uses a wifi connection when you are at home to save on your cell phone minutes? Will you still let that connect? If not, will you talk less or will you spend money on your cell phone bill instead of something else from a store in your home town?
Personally, I work a lot from my home office. Bandwidth is cheap, I can VPN into the corporate network and do my teleconferences. It saves me gas money from the commute and time to stay caught up on things like laundry. If my bandwidth gets capped, I will be driving into the office again every day to use their bandwidth instead. The money I have to spend on gas will take away from things like eating out, seeing movies, or buying new wii games for the kids.
What other gadgets and habits do you have that eat away at the bits you consume every month. How many purchases will you forgo, if you are worried about being able to read your email at the end of the month? how many youtube or 12second videos will you upload? How many will you watch? Will you Hulu? How useful is that iPod touch if you are not connected to the internet?
Will your highspeed bandwidth provider become the gas companies of the next decade, making big profits to give you virtual mobility at the expense of other businesses and sectors?

Comcast gets Marching Orders

There was a lot of buzz in the Blogosphere and Twitterverse yesterday because Michael Arrington got his Comcast issues resolved quickly by creating a Twitter storm that was being monitored by a Comcast executive. Shawn Morrissey noted that a quick Twitterscan showed that lots of people were complaining about Comcast yesterday ( and every day, apparently). Brandon LeBlanc summarized a lot of people’s feelings yesterday when he noted that the “famous” folks got their Tweets responded to, but the “little people” were ignored. This resulted in a highly read TechCrunch post that is recommending that people skip the 45 minute customer service phone queue and just Twitter a lot. Good advice if you are Michael Arrington, but apparently not so helpful if you are a “regular” customer. Hey, no hard feelings to Michael, if I had the leverage and it worked to my advantage in a very annoying situation, I would use the hell out of it. I wonder if Michael could create Twitterstorms for all the other outraged Comcast customers as well. Unfortunately, the more I look into this, the more convinced I am that he would have to abandon TechCrunch and take on “Comcast user advocate” as his new full time job. There are a lot of pissed off people out there.
Include me in their ranks.
Here in Indiana, we used to have Insight Cable. They were wonderful. Now, don’t get me wrong- they have had glitches and problems, issues and outages. But their people are friendly, helpful and responsive. The longest on hold queue I ever sat in was maybe 15 minutes and that was in the middle of a major outage. Our bandwidth was great and very stable.

Then at the beginning of this year, we were the loosers in a bounty divide between Insight and Comcast, which resulted in all our connectivity being owned by Comcast. I had heard some of the horror stories, so I held my breathe. But then people like Arrington and Dvorak constantly praise their Comcast connectivity, so maybe it was going to be OK.

It is SO not OK, and I am not the only person in the area to think so. Everyone in town is complaining about how their throughput has slowed. Think about this… this is the exact same hardware and field infrastructure. Comcast did not come out, tear up old wire and lay new stuff. They never touched our boxes or hardware. All that changed was that our traffic is getting routed through their switches and software now, instead of Insight’s. And it sucks.

I telecommute from home most days. It is a wonderful thing, especially being a Mom. The alternative would be to be on the road ALL the time, which would be very expensive and time wasteful for my company as well. I can handle most issues via teleconference or netmeeting, gathering enough information to do architecural designs and estimates. There are exceptions and some travel does happen. For the most part, I am camped out in the home office. With a VPN connection into the corporate network. It does NOT generate a lot of traffic. We are not yet advanced enough to be video conferencing over the corporate network ( don;t ask me why not- that is an entirely different rant). This is text and data and file exchange only. But I upload files into coorporate sharepoint systems, and ftp data into servers. This must be some kind of comcast flag. When my fiance is here, he is also dialed into his work and often uploading large files into supercomputers. This is NOT a change in how we behaved under Insight. We were not bringing down the town and preventing anyone from being able to send emails to their great aunt Mary. Insight never had a issue with this. Comcast is throttling the hell out of us. They will not admit it, but our bandwidth has dropped significantly, with our avg upload speed often at 500Kbs or less. This has started to impact the speed and effectiveness with which I can do my job.

They are not just throttling uploads, they are also throttling downloads as well. We are having a good day when we get 1.5 Mbs download shared across multiple computers. This is a drop from what used to be an average of 6-8 under Insight. If you have a single computer connected to the internet and are cruising the web, or watching a youTube fest, 1.5 is probably just dandy. But we have a household where when everyone is here and plugged in, we easily have 8 computers or more connected at once. Sharing 1.5Mbs across that is painfully slow. Even my 13 year old starting complaining about the internet being slow, thinking something was wrong with her computer.

I started watching the alternatives, and thinking about Dish. The problem with Dish connections is that we get a lot of weather and weather tens to interrupt the satellite link. I was concerned about the alternatives, but actively pondering it. I even found that there is a customer advocacy site for Comcast users ( not run by comcast), their service and support is so notoriously bad. You can check it out and see the long running list of service problems that have not changed for years. One customer gets an issue resolved, but another has exactly the same problem. Comcast is living in firefighting mode and has no intention of changing the fundamental way they do business. I really did not want to get caught in the middle of that.

Then last month, a friend who was also switched from Insight to Comcast had her service interrupted, with headaches and slow action to resolve it. As a fellow telecommuter, this meant a trip out of state to stay with her parents just to keep working. Comcast just does not care. She dropped their Comcast and switched to AT&T. That was when I found out that AT&T potentially had their new uVerse TV service available in our area. I made some calls and sure enough we can get Uverse as well as the DSL Max ( 10 Mbs down, 1.5 Mbs up) for the same price as out current Comcast bill. This actually gives us more channels- which if we do not watch, I can downgrade and save 8 bucks per month) and three receiver boxes. This means the TV connection into the bedroom computer can now include a box and get all the good channels, the Main living room TV will have the DVR box and the old TV downstairs which had been just a game console can get connectivity as well. Who’da thunk?

I got my confirmation over the weekend that the technician will be here on Wednesday morning, and since they are NOT contractors like the Comcast folks are, I have high confidence they will actually show. At that point, if everything is installed and running smoothly, I will be calling Comcast and giving them Marching Orders ( once I get past the 45 minute onhold queue) no questions asked.

Edit: ( 4/10/08) Update: I was out of town on Monday and Tuesday, and when I got home, there was a voice mail from the executive offices of Comcast. Since I had to be concentrating on ATT in the morning, I intended to give them a call and explain this to them in the afternoon. Before I had a chance to call them back, I got a call from them. I explained to a very nice lady in the executive offices that our bandwidth had significantly decreased, that I was not pleased with the customer service levels and I felt I was placing myself at too high a personal risk if I stayed with them as a provider. I explained that even if they could make my pipe whizzy fast again, I could not support Comcast in this way. She apologized, took my order to discontinue service and I went on with my day. About 40 minutes later,i got a call- from the Comcast executive offices, asking about my email. I explained that I had just talked to someone and explained it all- but that I was willing to explain again. She commented on how this was odd, as there was no note on my account that anyone had spoken to me. ( why am I uncomfortable again???) I went through the whole explanation again, she apologized again. I will be taking the box back to the offices later today, anyone want to bet if my service actually got discontinued yesterday or not??