I’m attending WebVisions here in Portland Thursday and Friday. Good stuff so far, and very different than those mega-conferences I’m used to at Moscone Center in San Francisco.
Rather than let you pine for content, here’s a taste of something new. Some of you may know that I made a guest apperance on Web Worker Daily last month. I had planned to contribute sporadically, and I had put together a piece on bandwidth policing.
However WWD’s kind editor, Judi Sohn, has a glut of content, and apparently GigaOm, the parent company of WWD has recently reworked its contributor policy to require a contract.
All this means I have an extra post waiting to see the light of day. Here it is. Enjoy.
Bandwidth is the web worker’s lifeblood. It can never be too fast or too plentiful.
Although many web workers frequent office shares, coffee shops, and other public wi-fi locations, most of us have a home office, which means we pay an ISP for bandwidth.
Advances in broadband and its increasing reach, 77% of all US home Internet users and 55% of all Americans have a broadband connection, have put a strain on broadband service providers. So, as more people watch streaming video and download media, ISPs have begun to worry that their billion-dollar infrastructure investments may not be enough to handle the demand (read diminishing return on investment). This has led to doomsday predictions like that of AT&T’s Jim Cicconi.
Enter bandwidth policing.
Although they’ve been there all along, more recently announced caps on bandwidth and restructuring of the pricing models to pay-per-use have web workers in an understandable uproar. Comcast’s plan to slow down the connections of people it deems as “overutilizing” their service seems especially unfair to web workers.
Web working requires fast, dependable bandwidth, and there’s no way for an ISP to tell determine the intented use for a packet. Packets from iTunes could be songs for entertainment or podcasts for work. Streaming video from YouTube could be the latest Rick Roll or a potential client’s video demonstration. A large mutli-gigabyte download could be a movie or it could be a software installation.
So, web workers who need fast connections to, you know, work, could be penalized for their usage. You might argue that pay-per-use would be fair, but web working doesn’t come with an enterprise budget. A rise in core costs negatively impacts the web worker’s business because it must either absorbed into the business or passed on to customers. Neither is ideal.
The same problem applies to people like me who telecommute for a large company. My employer offers telecommuting to me as a benefit. However, say my ISP raises my rates because they see me as a serial bandwidth hog. I download software, watch recorded video from conferences, host and attend web conferences and generally use a lot of bandwidth to do my job. Plus, I do it over a VPN connection, so each packet I send and receive has an additional overhead.
What happens when my cost rises? Just like freelance web workers, I’m forced to decide between absorbing the additional cost or passing it on, in this case, to my employer. If I pass it on, I’m running the risk that my company will see the telecommuting benefit as too expensive. In an uncertain economic climate, benefits all come under scrutiny, especially since my employer has perfectly good office space I could use. So, I’m the loser in this game.
It seems unlikely that issues like bandwidth policing and net neutrality will resolve quickly, so for the moment, we have choices. Some ISPs, like COPOWI, promise net neutrality, but since they use the existing infrastructure of a major ISP, their traffic would be subject to bandwidth policing, leading ultimately to the same dillemma.
For now, if your ISP is threatening to police your traffic, and you think you might be affected, vote with your feet and find a new ISP. You might consider mobile broadband as an alternative; several web workers I know have gone exclusively mobile because of speed (comparable to residential DSL) and convenience. Most providers offer an unlimited bandwidth option and prices are comparable to wired broadband.
Mobile broadband use is on the rise, and providers are more likely to keep it affordable and unpoliced as they lure in new customers. Because the market is less mature, you can probably expect a few years before diminishing returns hit.
When they do, let’s hope there’s another recourse, or that bandwidth policing has been squashed in favor of a more equitable solution.