We will tell YOU what to do with your Internet access!

wifiWith Comcast (my provider at home and office) throttling bandwidth and people up in arms and suing, I’ve been really torn about how I feel and something that happened today deepened my troubled thinking.

As I’ve written before, I’m really agitated that Comcast is playing games with traffic shaping and I (and many others) are suffering because of it. It’s not just downloaders and uploaders of bittorrent files, heavy YouTube watchers or even those who simply use their internet connections to the fullest, it’s Comcast playing God with what we can-and-cannot-do with the pipe we’re paying for into our homes and offices.

If you’ve worked at senior levels in corporations in a strategic capacity like I have, you would see how blatantly obvious some recent defensive moves have been by companies in response to Apple, NetFlix and others offering movie download services (e.g., Time Warner tiered bandwidth pricing) let alone what’s happened in the past with voice over internet protocol (VoIP). It’s crystal clear to me that tactics like Comcast bandwidth manipulation and Time Warner’s pricing trial balloon are attempts to defend their own video businesses by putting up obstacles and barriers for these and other companies to ride on the cable distribution networks.

But what’s OK for ISP’s to do, what are we really paying for and can they legally and realistically dictate to us what we can-and-cannot-do with the Internet pipe they supply to us?

My mind was made up a long time ago: I pay you Mr. ISP and thus can use any application I want on your network. But today I was at a hospital (for a loved one having surgery) and was there for roughly five hours. With free and remarkably fast guest wireless internet access, I had ample opportunity to get work done, make Skype phone calls, send emails and more. Today’s experience, however, sees me struggling with the black-n-whiteness of an issue that has now suddenly become gray.

During lunch I started through my Google Reader and noticed a “missing plugin” where a Flash video should be. Happened again and again so I investigated further by going to YouTube….which was a blocked site through the hospital’s Cisco hardware managed network. I was bugged….for about one minute.

Then it dawned on me: if all the people around me with open laptops were watching videos, for instance, so much bandwidth would’ve been sucked up that using Skype would’ve been a joke and I had two imperative conference calls to make — and a call to Dublin, Ireland — which collectively would’ve cost a bundle for the three hours I was on the phone if it had been on my iPhone. If the bandwidth had not been managed, even my paltry bandwidth sipping would’ve been a problem for me.

No, I’m not equating a free supplied service for one I pay for at my home or office. But I have experienced slowdowns in my own neighborhood at various times when I’m certain voluminous downloading is occurring (since after most kids go to bed — including my 13 year old son who is a voracious watcher of anime — bandwidth suddenly frees up).

So what’s the answer? No caps? No limits? Has today’s experience caused me to become a fanboy for ISP network management?

Comcast has a Terms of Service that’s remarkably vague and yes, it appears that they can currently (and legally?) do whatever they want with their network. Try this one on and see how easy it would be for them to tell you that you’re inhibiting your neighbor and thus have justification to shut you down or manage your bandwidth:

viii. restrict, inhibit, interfere with, or otherwise disrupt or cause a performance degradation, regardless of intent, purpose or knowledge, to the Service or any Comcast (or Comcast supplier) host, server, backbone network, node or service, or otherwise cause a performance degradation to any Comcast (or Comcast supplier) facilities used to deliver the Service;

Regardless of intent? With Comcast and other ISP bandwidth caps being pretty nebulous, I think this gives Comcast a blank check. Thankfully the Federal Communications Commission has at least opened an inquiry in to Comcast’s practices so maybe, just maybe we’ll have some sort of ruling on reasonable network practices soon.

No question that if you care about the Internet and your access to it in this country, get ready to do battle with the ISP’s and telephony networks who’d like to ensure artificial scarcity of Internet bandwith (keeps prices high) and to be the troll under the bridge collecting tolls from you and any company that wants to provide you with digital services. With our current Administrations policies that favor business over the people, nothing will probably happen in 2008 unless it’s railroading an ISP-centric positive change through before President Bush quacks much louder as the lame duck he already is.

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  1. A. Friend on January 21, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Some coffee shops block YouTube, a fellow visitor clued me in to a work around. Use a proxy service. The one I remember is http://www.etunnel.com (or it may have been a, b, c, or d)

  2. passerby on January 21, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    What if ISP’s go to the old cell phone model. Remember when the old analog cell phone networks were clogged so they charged more during the day than at night. Even now with the networks not clogged you have daytime minutes and unlimited nights. So what if the ISP’s did the same. Throttle you during prime time, then at night open it up. The hardcore would have no trouble setting up downloaders to pull in what they want at night, and set top boxes could be set to download programs for the following days to come at night. During prime time automatic throttling kicks in dividing the available bandwidth by the number of users.
    This seems like the common sense answer and thus the one likely not to be chosen since like you suspect, it’s not really about the network being clogged but keeping you from getting your video content some other way.

  3. Steve Borsch on January 21, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    passerby: the only thing with that is prime time for internet use for bittorrent and the like *is* nighttime.

    I think you’re right-on with automatic filtering or queueing of content so you could subscribe to new shows and they’d download as bandwidth was available overnight. Doesn’t really help the on-demand access everyone desires though.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.