Thursday, January 17, 2008


Time Warner Cable does the right thing

UPDATE: I've had lots of comments on this today, mostly via email. One, below, says, "Anything that encourages users to think twice before they click just can't be good for the Web, creativity, freedom of speech, or Web-based businesses." Another correspondent said that TWC has never delivered what it has promised anyhow.
points out -- correctly -- that TWC's scheme, "is little more than a band-aid for our bigger broadband problems." And there's the rub. While France and Japan and twenty other nations are rolling out copious quantities of Internet connectivity, the U.S. is mired in managing scarcity.

TWC, at least, is managing it openly and non-deceptively. That's fainter praise than my original reaction. The faintness is warranted.

My original post from this morning here:

The news that Time Warner Cable is trialing a plan to charge more when you send or receive more Internet data is not bad news. It is not as great as it could be, but in my opinion it is a huge step in the right direction. It's not worthy of a standing ovation, but it's not the last act. Polite applause are in order.

If you must manage congestion, then doing it explicitly is, at very least, honest. It is better than doing it (a) covertly or (b) indirectly, by injecting artificial interrupts and (c) denying you're doing it -- like Comcast currently does.

If the problem is, indeed, congestion, or the related problem that a few "bandwidth hogs" are using more than their share of the network's capacity, tiered pricing is a simple, straightforward solution.

Of course, it does discriminate against high-bit-rate applications, such as video. But it does so in an above the board manner. The pricing details, when they emerge, will be key to whether this discrimination is seen as fair or as anti-competitive.

The report says that customers will be able to monitor their usage and upgrade easily on line. This can help customers gain a sense of understanding and control. Again, details as to how this will actually work will be key.

Let's remember that getting an offer like this right is an iterative process. We should help TWC, not kill them. As long as they don't discriminate on the basis of specific applications or devices or app providers, and provided they don't charge grossly unfair amounts for video levels of traffic usage, and provided they continue to upgrade their network as technology improves, what they're doing is a good thing.

Disclosure: I did a paid presentation to TWC a couple of years ago. And Time Warner, the parent company, has sponsored events. Over the last few years, I've argued with TWC management vigorously, advocating Network Neutrality, openness, and explicit network management. I have no idea whether any such discussions led to the current news, but I'd like to think so. I also think it speaks well of TWC management that they'd engage with me . . . NONE of the ILECs have done so. And, as usual, the opinion above is my own; nobody told me, asked me or paid me to say (or not say) anything.

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We're in accord on many things, David, but I cannot agree with you that TW Cable's move is a positive one. This could potentially have a very negative impact on Web advertising, particularly the rich media and video ads that keep plenty of Web sites up and running (including AOL, owned, of course, by TW Cable’s corporate parent). I discussed this at a bit more length earlier today.

Anything that encourages users to think twice before they click just can't be good for the Web, creativity, freedom of speech, or Web-based businesses.
It would be nice if they do some 95th percentile pricing but that's probably too much to expect. The people who occasionally download a movie or two and just go over will be the ones who may get screwed if they don't as they could be forced to upgrade to a more expensive plan that they really don't need.
I concur with his opinion about 95%ile pricing.

That said, I also think that the Road Runner people are pretty damned decent, as consumer ISPs go.

They rarely go out on us, they're typically fast as hell, and their business support people a) answer the phone very quickly (90% of calls on the second ring) and b) know what the hell *I'm* talking about -- a much more difficult job than merely knowing what the hell *they* are talking about. ;-)
Apologies for the length...

Rebecca sets up one side of the emerging issue of bandwidth usage with the remarks on her blog that point out that metering bandwidth amounts to metering video and would put a pretty big break on an emerging segment of the internet. Since Downloadable Video is our best chance to break the cable stranglehold that keeps the old broadcast model of fixed times and channels (and boring TV!) this is "not a good thing."

On the other hand for local providers without the capacity to route your own traffic on your own backbone--and to carry other carriers bits in exchange for their carrying yours--the expense of your backbone connection is a significant cost of providing bandwidth. So locally owned, muni or regional carriers who are the best hope of breaking the network duopoly that most of the US contends with are the most likely to have to find a way to "manage" bandwidth. ESPECIALLY if they are NOT constrained by antiquated hardware in the last mile and can offer big bandwidth there. (Lafayette, my city, will be in this position with its FTTH network.) David's underlying point that there is something good about being honest about an almost universal and almost universally denied practices is something they should attend to--as the local good guys they'll be expected to "do right."

Because Lafayette is trying to grapple with many of these issues from the viewpoint of a consumer-owned business I've been looking for any rational alternative from smaller carriers. Folks might be interested in Sunflower, a smallish local private provider in Lawrence, KS. They cap each tier VERY explicitly (the cap is as easy to see as the speed). That can be found at:

They recently have found they have to defend themselves on their explicit caps, presumably from the teleco, since they are the local cableco and that page has very interesting details:

The Problem: from the standpoint of a muni provider who wants 1) to provide advanced, fast service, and 2) provide cheap, affordable prices to its customers is that the facts-on-the-ground present a dilemma. Providng cheap, high bandwidth with no caps is the ideal and what you want to be able to provide. The easiest conflict to see is highlighted on the sunflower page above: A few high-usage customers can drive the costs for all higher than they would otherwise need to be. Sunflower, as a cableco whose plant can't really handle a lot higher speeds/caps than it is offering anyway has probably made the rationale decision for an honest, local, private, for-profit company that want to keep its costs and its customers costs as low as possible. But a municipal utility with a full fiber to the home plant that wants to both provide service and lower prices really wants to be a dominant utility (not a niche or even major competitor). Its advantage is the capacity of its network. It wants its community to learn to demand the very fast speeds and reliable connection that only it can provide...but costs to connect to the larger internet and fairness to the less cutting edge of its customers yields a conflict on the data side.

Now this might well be able to be masked in the early years by relying on the fat and volume in cable video pricing to support the network as a whole. And so the caps issue might simply be quietly ignored while the cable leg of the triple play provides most of the income support. But this won't last forever if it is a successful strategy. At some point the utility provider will have provided the speed and capacity to enable its community to move away from the broadband/cable model and begin downloading HD video and using other high-bandwith applications in numbers sufficient to make cable video a smaller part of the income stream. At that point the conflict has to be dealt with.

No solutions, just problems. Have I missed something obvious? :-) Thoughts?
If it will limit advertising, I'm all for it. All the video ads and the Vibrant pop up stuff, annoy me. Interrupting me while I try to read is NO WAY TO GET ME TO BUY YOUR PRODUCT. (That's rule # 1 in new media marketing).

I'm on both sides on this deabte. Capping is probably necessary from the provider point of view. From the consumer POV, paying RR $64 per month for basic service (total) means I should get to download uncapped.

No one knows what the cap represents. I have people that send me lots of videos. 3-6MB each. How do I get them to stop? Now it will cost me to get email.

The average web page is 1.4MB now. Many sites are about 20k of info and 1.38MB of ads, links, pics, video and other crap.

This will have an effect on job hunters, tele-workers, entrepreneurs, online shopping, and web dev (SAAS, Facebook).

Why is it that $64 per month doesn't cover it? In Europe I would get triple play and Cappucino for that.
I'm using Sunflower cable - it's not so bad on the bandwidth until your system dies and you have to re-download software updates, and any online-stored-games. (Happened to me last night.) It definitely makes you think twice before purchasing software over the net or going with something like Netflix via XBox Live.
P.S. -- By the way, there were a few inaccuracies in your article above. The most salient: Comcast is not "currently" using RST packets to control P2P, though in my opinion it was well justified in using this time-honored technique to limit traffic which was, in fact, a breach of contract on the part of the user.

There are a few inaccuracies in your comment above. The most salient: For Isenberg "currently" refers to the posting date, Thursday, January 17, 2008 ;-^ (when Comcast was throttling P2P)
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