Thursday, July 10, 2008

Will ISPs be the future pot holes of the Internet?

I was reading an interesting post on one person's experience with an ISP cutting service in ways that may be a harbinger of what will happen to many of us in the future. In short, his ISP, ComCast, cut off his wife's ability to send out email because they thought she was using email too much for a typical home user.

As gas prices continue to go up, many more of us will be working from home. Will our home ISP now expect us to buy a much more expensive business account? That was the "solution" that ComCast suggested.

So, you thought the $60/month your paying for Internet access was unlimited? Well, it is in that you don't pay by the byte. The contract you never read probably says you cannot have a server running from your home, etc. The ISPs have basically made this restriction a moot point by making the speed of going out from your house far lower than the speed coming in. In other words, the ISPs made it impractical to operate a server even if you wanted to break the rules of the contract you never saw.

The ISPs have two problems that they probably didn't anticipate. The first is that the competition between the cable and telcos have resulted in dramatically greater bandwidth. The second problem is that there are now services that can eat up all that bandwidth. Most people would not notice the difference between two and ten megs per second. Web pages don't speed up much after a certain point. But, download hi-def movies and the difference is large. Also, ISPs planned on the Internet being used when a person was home and on the computer. Soon, your computer may be an Internet-based Tivo downloading huge files all day long.

The result is that ISPs have run into a wall that is partly of their causing and partly a result of circumstances. They cannot cut back speeds and keep the same prices. I don't think they can raise the prices -- of course, they have been all too good at increasing cable TV prices. I think they will do one of two things. They will fight even harder in Congress to get bills passed that will allow for tiered performance on the Internet. This will allow them to charge you more if you want the ability to download a movie or to use Skype without it voice breaking up. The second game they can play is to screw up the applications they don't like and hope users will think it's the application's fault and thus stop using it. This has been tried by ComCast and by Rogers (in Canada). We'll see what will happen in the courts.

What does this all mean for you? Most likely, applications your are using now will be okay most of the time, but you may find that advanced features, such as Voice over IP, multimedia downloads, and remote control of computers at work will either be more error-prone or will be a "premium" service.


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