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Bandwidth Caps May Be Critical Error For Broadband Companies 317

Posted by Zonk
from the give-a-little-get-a-little dept.
Technical Writing Geek writes "An Ars Technica article argues that after many years of stagnation, the US broadband landscape is finally 'primed for change'. Companies like Time Warner that decide to cap bandwidth risk being relegated to a 'broadband ghetto. Alternatives to the standard cable modem vs. DSL conundrum will come from technologies like WiMax and (eventually) the 'white space' broadband that might be offered by whoever wins the 700mhz auction. 'All of that is to say that cable and DSL won't always be the only games in town. If wireless solutions are able to deliver on their promises of high speeds with no usage limits, capped cable broadband service like Time Warner has planned is likely to be unattractive, to say the least. Instead of developing plans designed to discourage consumers from feeding at the bandwidth trough, cable companies would be better served in the long run by making investments in new technologies like DOCSIS 3.0 and the kind of infrastructure improvements necessary to meet bandwidth demands.'"
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Bandwidth Caps May Be Critical Error For Broadband Companies

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  • FP? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dosius (230542) <bridget@buric.co> on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:44PM (#22140012) Journal
    Yeah but in these days of corporatocracy, who wants to actually provide better service to their consumers (since it's the shareholders, not the consumers, who they see as their customers), instead of just jacking up the prices and LOWERING service?

    -uso.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You know, you could have just put "Fr1$t P0st!!1" in the body of your message, instead of bothering to come up with something that looked vaguely like actual content.
    • Why would they see the shareholders as their customers? They don't actually get anything if the stock price goes up unless they issue more stock.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pod (1103)
        Au contraire.

        The execs see lots of upside when the stock goes up, and lots of downside (and pressure from senior leadership and stock holders) when the stock falls. The stock price and happy share holders are utmost in many executive's minds.
      • Re:FP? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by riseoftheindividual (1214958) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:42PM (#22140930) Homepage
        The current situation in corporate America is that management serves shareholders, not customers. Customers are secondary to shareholder needs. This has led to an outbreak of executive leadership that focuses no more than 2 quarters out. This is one of the reasons why US companies aren't as competitive globally as they used to be. Not the workforce, the management. The management goals aren't for strong long term corporate heatlh(which is what serving customers leads to), but rather, making sure they hit the numbers for the current quarter(the customers and customer service be damned).

        This isn't true everywhere obviously, and where it is true it's in various degrees. This thinking has become commonplace and leads to decisions that will hurt the company down the line. But since they aren't focusing on anything beyond 2 quarters, they just don't see it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TheRaven64 (641858)

          This has led to an outbreak of executive leadership that focuses no more than 2 quarters out.

          I've proposed a solution to this several times, but to my knowledge no company has ever implemented it. The solution is quite simple. Every year, you pay your executives a reasonable sum of money and issue them with a larger number of shares. The catch is that they are not allowed to sell the shares for five years after they were issued. If the value of the company keeps increasing five years after the CEO leaves, then they will make a fortune. If the company bombs a couple of years after they leave t

      • by bcattwoo (737354)

        Why would they see the shareholders as their customers? They don't actually get anything if the stock price goes up unless they issue more stock.
        Because CEOs and board members tend to get fired when they screw the shareholders.
      • Ummm, yes they do. Executives have stock options, which give them the opportunity to "buy" shares at a fixed (low) rate when it vests at some time down the road. Say you have 10,000 options, at a strike price of $15. If, at vesting time, the stock is at $22, the executive gets either to cash out $70,000 (($22-$15) * 10,000), or they can keep the 10,000 shares and let it ride.

        Either way, their "customer" is the shareholder. As long as the end purchaser is satisfied (or contracted) enough to ensure revenue gr
  • It's about time! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tecmec (870283)
    It's funny that wireless internet access would prompt such a thing though. You would think it would be easier to deliver lots of bandwidth over wires than it would be over the air.
    • by KublaiKhan (522918) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:58PM (#22140224) Homepage Journal
      Costs a lot less to toss up a couple of towers than it does to negotiate rights of way, dig trenches or erect poles, maintain a fleet of trucks and techs to go from residence to residence making connections, et al.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by tecmec (870283)
        Yeah, but with WiMax (which is what Sprints Xohm is using), your towers only cover like 25 Km or something (sure, you can go longer), so you will need a lot of towers (more than a cellular network). And, unless I'm mistaken, you need wired infrastructure to lead to those towers (and manage all the data). The towers aren't magically connected to the internet.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by KublaiKhan (522918)
          Use the cell tower model and piggyback on existing structures and existing infrastructure. Rent conduit/pole space from the telco to string a bit of fiber--expensive, sure, but a lot less costly than trying to run thousands of last-mile connections. It's not that it won't be expensive--it'll still cost a lot, but there will be significant savings over the traditional wired model.
        • How do you mean "more than a cellular network"? How far do you think cell towers are generally spaced apart? While both GSM and IS-95/CDMA2000 can use cells larger than 25km in radius, there's a limit to how far your typical half-watt cellphone can usefully transmit, especially in real world conditions with no unblocked line of sight between you and the tower.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Yes, but with wires, you can always upgrade to more wires, or wires that can carry more data (eg. copper to fibre optic). With wireless, once you fill up the spectrum, there's very little you can do to get more bandwidth.
  • by Scudsucker (17617) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:47PM (#22140062) Homepage Journal
    it's the lack of competition. Your consumer typically has the choice of either cable internet or DSL, or just one of the above. The FCC change in allowing telecos to lease their lines for more than bulk rates was a big part of this.
    • but its a mighty big assumption that if they offered tiered pricing and didn't see a significant increase in their churn rate that the other guys won't also jump on the bandwagon. Hell people act as if wireless will be the holy grail of internet connectivity convienently forgetting that it is the holy grail for PHONE companies. Getting people to pay for their minutes was probably the biggest cash cow they came up with in a long time with ring tones coming right behind.

      Sorry, if Time Warner puts this out a
    • It's also that broadband ISP's didn't engineer their networks for the capacity. As neighbor hoods get more populated, contention rises and performance suffers.

      Besides, I have a 20mb FiOS down stream and I *never* touch it now, but that might change in the future.
    • Lack of competition creates a slew of superficial problems - lack of choice, poor quality, high cost, little to no accountability, lack of privacy, lack of security, and so on.

      One thing in particular that bugs me as when service providers sell a variety of packages, none of which actually perform as claimed. Comcast and AT&T provide broadband in my area, but having seen a variety of the different packages first hand it's clear that none of them live up to their billing. More typically, you can rely

  • Uh Huh (Score:5, Informative)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:48PM (#22140068) Journal
    Yeah, because we all know that the backbones have unlimited bandwidth...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Surt (22457)
      Mod parent up past the max. This is the only response such a stupid article deserves. Bandwidth doesn't magically exist free for wireless providers.
      • Re:Uh Huh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ultranova (717540) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:31PM (#22140730)

        Mod parent up past the max. This is the only response such a stupid article deserves. Bandwidth doesn't magically exist free for wireless providers.

        Actually, you are wrong. It does. After all, nothing stops two neighboring wireless networks from exchanging packets directly, without going through the backbone, or relaying each others packets towards third parties. Naturally this is slower in the latency sense than going through the backbone, but that doesn't really matter for BitTorrent, streaming media, or other high bandwidth consumers.

        At some point we need to get rid of this silly notation of Internet Service Providers and simply let any device act as a wireless router for any other, forming a worldwide mesh. Then again, this would be a nightmare for the control freaks who want to keep exact logs of who does what online, so it might take some time to happen.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Surt (22457)
          But then you don't have a 'wireless provider', you have a wireless mesh. Each node becomes a provider, and now in addition to still having the limited bandwidth between nodes, you have to deal with routing (chokes, failure, tampering, unreachability), security/privacy, etc. This is a bad idea in many many dimensions, which is why it hasn't caught on in spite of widespread availability.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by patrikor_007 (1094491)
          Easier said than done. Such a decentralized scheme wouldn't lend itself very well to hierarchical addressing and routing. How would all those millions of devices decide how to route packets?
      • File cache, like Squid proxy can retain commonly downloaded files
        such as images from the major websites.

        These are updated periodically from the website in question.

        So if a person #1 visits yahoo, the images are downloaded,
        and other simultaneous visitors to that site instead pull
        the images and flash files from the cache, not long haul over
        and over.

        That is moronic.

        So charging ppl bandwidth usage for locally cached files
        on a metro area network file cache is just more greed.

        If they only charge for long haul xfe
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by trainman (6872)
      Yeah, because we all know that the backbones have unlimited bandwidth...

      Exactly. As I said in a reply to the previous article on this topic, bandwidth caps have been successfully implemented for years in Canada, and it brings a nice clarity to the product rather than receiving a letter claiming you've surpassed some mysterious "limit."

      The key is ensuring the caps and packages are reasonable. I had a plan that allowed me 30GB/month. About a year ago I decided to pay $5 more a month to double my speed (to
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Eivind (15695)
      Offcourse they don't, but one huge trunk tends to be several orders of magnitude cheaper than the thousands of thin end-subscriber-lines that feeds into it.

      What do you figure cost more, wiring up 50.000 dwellings in the municipality of Stavanger with 1mbps or more to a central point, or linking Stavanger to Bergen (next larger city, 150km away) with a single high-capacity fibre-line sufficient to deal with it all?

      Keep in mind that the needed capacity will NOT be 50.000 * 1mbps, (50Gbps) not even close, that
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by peragrin (659227)
        Your logic is what has gotten us into this mess to begin with. ISP's don't have enough overall bandwidth for the number of users they are supporting.

        The promise everyone can get this much at this speed but in order to deliver it they either have to increase their bandwidth, or throttle a percentage of the connections. If you don't plan for giving 50.000 people 1mbps connections then when you have 50.000 people trying to use their connection to download the latest TV show your screwed.

        think farther ahead t
    • by gbjbaanb (229885)
      yeah, they do too, its just that the government keeps it restricted because they're scared of what the unlimited communication potential could do to their hold over society. That, or something about aliens.

  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:50PM (#22140092) Homepage

    Don't worry, it'll get "better". My big worry with something like this is that specific services I use will cause me to go over. Netflix watching, TiVo downloading shows, Apple TV (if I had one), etc.

    Which means that they'll probably start adding exceptions. Soon your plan will be:

    10 GB per month, except stuff coming from Netflix, TiVo, or Apple... you get 200 GB there. Our site(s) are unmetered, watch our ads all you want. Also, you can add any site you want to the list of exceptions for only $5 per month, but we don't have to honor that.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by DonCaballero (960895)
      But why would cable companies want you to not be able to have unlimited access to streaming and downloadable video?

      Oooohhhhhhh, I see what they did there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MBCook (132727)

      Ooh. I just thought of a solution to this problem. They're not talking about capping uploads, right? I'll just use that bandwidth. We'll use my newly invented HLPoIP, or High-Low-Protocol-over-IP. Here is how it works.

      1. Initiate connection as usual
      2. When it is time to download, you tell me how big the file is
      3. I send you 64 KB of data.
      4. You tell me if my guess (taken as a 64k digit binary number) is high or low
        1. If I'm right, we move on to the next block of data
        2. If I'm wrong, I alter my guess based on randomne
      • by Sneftel (15416) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:09PM (#22140390)
        Hey, let's improve on that a little! We can throw out the randomness and just do deterministic binary search. The advantage of this is, you never have to send your 64k to the server! Since the server already knows what 64k number you were going to send (since it's deterministic), it can just base its answers on that, sending a stream of highs and lows, each taking one bit.

        Hmm, some more specifics. The first guess is, of course, halfway through the range, and a "high" answer means "your guess was equal to or greater than the number I was thinking of". A "low" answer means "your guess was less than the number I was thinking of".

        Looking good! Let's try it with a sample four bit number... say, 0110. So the server knows that your first guess will be 1000, so it sends a "low". Your next guess will be half that, 0100, which is too high, so it sends a "high". So your next guess will be 0110 (halfway between 1000 and 0100); the server responds "high" because that's equal to or greater than. Finally, your guess will be 0111, and the server sends a "low", thereby reducing the range to the only possible number, 0110. So it sends four bits: low, high, high, low. Encoding a low as 0 and a high as 1, we get... 0110

        Whoopsy.

        Your introduction to Information Theory has begun. :-)
      • # I send you 64 Kb of data.
        # You tell me if my guess (taken as a 64k digit binary number) is high or low

        1. If I'm right, we move on to the next block of data
        2. If I'm wrong, I alter my guess based on randomness and binary search (both efficient and crazy at the same time) based on if my guess was too high or low... and I guess again

        There we go. I used very little download bandwidth

        If your guess is right 1/65536 of the time on average, and you download 1 bit to ve
  • by techpawn (969834) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:51PM (#22140104) Journal
    Like the RIAA and Oil companies this is the last gasp of a company that can't adapt to the changing market demand with anything that won't screw the customer. Also like the above mentioned you have little choice in the immediate, all the options being talked about are down the road ideas. So, they're going to bend the customer over and get what more money they can before they die a painful death.

    Which is more profitable? Innovation or screwing the customer?
    • by Yaa 101 (664725)
      Depends on who you ask...
    • "Which is more profitable? Innovation or screwing the customer?"

      Screwing your customer could be pretty profitable, though in most countries it's also illegal. Not sure there can be much more innovation in this arena than has already taken place over the past few thousand years, but the advent of wireless communications certainly makes for interesting possibilities.
      • by techpawn (969834)

        Not sure there can be much more innovation in this arena than has already taken place over the past few thousand years, but the advent of wireless communications certainly makes for interesting possibilities.
        Nonono! I said Innovation OR screwing the customer... Not innovation FOR screwing the customer
  • by pigiron (104729) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:54PM (#22140158) Homepage
    With the choice of high speed providers for most people being limited to 2 or 3 at best, we will see an oligopolistic pricing model much like that in cellular service where all providers passively collude in a price structure that maintains high profits.
    • Most people in cities have a choice of at least 6 ways to connect to the Internet:

      * dialup, slow
      * DSL, relatively cheap
      * cable modem, a bit more than DSL but a better bargain
      * wireless through cell phone, expensive for what you get
      * satellite, expensive for what you get and long latencies, may require phone uplink
      * T1 and other business-grade, dedicated-bandwidth solutions, very expensive compared to DSL or Cable

      Now, if you want faster than dialup, don't need mobility, and don't need dedicated bandwidth, DS
  • totally naive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quadraginta (902985) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:55PM (#22140182)
    Fact is, most users want a fairly modest average bandwidth, with rare bouts of high-bandwidth usage. It's only the few rare addicts and power users that want a big pipe open to their PC all the time. That's why cable has succeeded as well as it has so far -- because the basic bandwidth-sharing paradigm works for most customers, who usually just write e-mail and every two weeks or so download some MP3s from iTunes or watch a video preview of some movie. The fact that jacking the price up for the average-bandwidth power users might drive some of them away (to surely more expensive options) is not going to be a bad business decision for the cable companies, any more than it's a bad business decision for an HMO to drive its sickest patients to other insurers.

    The other thing most people want is for their Internet connection to be dirt cheap. Hence the pressure on cable companies from their customers has not been towards higher and higher average capacity, but towards reliability and cheapness. My cable connection costs the same in nominal dollars now, in 2007, as it did the first day I got it, in 1997. That means its real price has fallen steeply. But the bandwidth hasn't budged. If anything, it's worse. That's not because the cable company is stupid, contra this naive article, but because those have been the priorities of my neighbors signing up for the service. The fact that the cable company has made a huge pile of money operating as they have is the surest evidence that they know what they're doing, business-wise.

    Will that change in the future? Will people start wanting to stream HD movies over the Internet? Got me. Maybe. But the demand for enormous bandwidth has been predicted to be Right Around The Corner(TM) every year for the last 12 years in my experience. That wouldn't inspire me to invest my retirement funds in any big pipe to every desktop tech.
    • Re:totally naive (Score:5, Insightful)

      by div_2n (525075) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:30PM (#22140714)
      the demand for enormous bandwidth has been predicted to be Right Around The Corner(TM) every year for the last 12 years in my experience

      I think that if Bittorrent has taught us anything, it's that when content is available (either legal or otherwise) that people want, they WILL saturate their pipe to get it as soon as they can.

      I sincerely think that this is a chicken and egg scenario where the demand _would_ be there if the content owners would get over themselves and work with tech companies to meld content and technology in an inexpensive and unrestricted manner.

      The past decade has proven so many lessons that organizations like the MPAA and the RIAA are either unable or unwilling to learn. Sadly for them, in trying to be a damn in the path of the river, they are quickly becoming a bump in the road slowly being pound level to the pavement.

      The saddest part of all is that we could all be enjoying inexpensive access to music and video content legally _right now_ with those organizations profiting instead of this stalemate we're in where we can last forever while those relying on profit cannot.

      There's your corner and while I can't possibly predict how long it will take for us to get around that corner, rest assured that we will and then you will see demand skyrocket.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by spotter (5662)
      Eh. I don't know what your experience is, but since 2001, my cable modem w/ time warner has been about $42.

      However, in that time, the downstream bandwidth cap went from 5Mbps to 7Mbps to 10Mbps (albiet upstream only went from 384Kbps to 512)

      However, $42 dollars in 2001, is only about $36-$37 today, that's not a steep fall. (per http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/ [measuringworth.com])

      So I would say the average NY'er experience have been the exact opposite of yours (more bandwidth, while prices haven't fallen (in "real" do
    • My cable connection costs the same in nominal dollars now, in 2007, as it did the first day I got it, in 1997. That means its real price has fallen steeply. But the bandwidth hasn't budged. If anything, it's worse.

      What a ripoff! My DSL has dropped $10/month in the last six years and gone from 768Kbps to 7Mbps. This is with Qwest, hardly your friendly neighborhood provider.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hazydave (96747)
      It's true TODAY that most users are consuming moderate amounts of bandwidth (you can't say "average", because most users will consumer average amounts of bandwidth, even if they all go crazy and quadruple their consumption tomorrow). But there are various market forces conspiring to change this. I see this announcement as the cables (and eventually, telcos) hedging their bets.

      For example, a top-level Seagate executive announced, at the recent CES show, that "blue laser disc" has failed, and hard drive stora
  • by corsec67 (627446) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:01PM (#22140264) Homepage Journal
    Even going with the horrible misdefinition of "bandwidth" to mean "throughput", that isn't what this article is talking about. All high-speed connections have a throughput limit, and that certainly isn't measured in gigabytes (yet, for almost all people). It is more often in the megabits/second range, or kilobits/second for the unlucky.

    This article is talking about a transfer cap, or a limit on the number of bits that can be sent in a month. 15GiB [wikipedia.org] a month doesn't have anything to do with the throughput. For example a 28.8Kbits/second modem sending for a solid month can send over 5 Gibibytes of data.
    • by timster (32400)
      OT I know, but the binary mega/giga/etc have basically never ever been used for telecom throughput metrics, and there's certainly no reason to start.
      • by corsec67 (627446)
        Yes, and you will note that I never mentioned Kibibytes/second, only Mb/sec and Kb/sec, but I did use gibibytes for the total transfer.

        Kibi means 1024, and Kilo means 1000, and anything else is just silly, as that just leads to confusion. (Saying that Mega means "1,048,576" for computers doesn't cut it either, with megaHertz, megaflops, and such meaning 1,000,000 of something)
    • by IBBoard (1128019)
      Try telling that to most of the ISPs. They say "bandwidth" a lot when they mean "monthly transfer limit" (although some are moving to "monthly transfer limit" now). Same for just about every host I've seen as well. Such are the many joys of letting marketing lose with Tech-speak.
  • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:02PM (#22140276)
    That would be nice, but the lack of real competition in television and movie phones doesn't make me particularly optimistic. The mobile phone carriers all charge virtually identical prices. Satellite and cable companies nickel and dime for every little thing.

    The problem is that consumers just accept this. They'll complain, but they keep right on paying these companies. So if consumers accept this bandwidth cap all providers will start doing it.

    With this general trend to charge people for every little thing how can they not do it? I guess I'm just a pessimist.
  • Wishful thinking (Score:5, Informative)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:03PM (#22140296)
    The power of DOCSIS 3 is not that consumers will be able to utilize all their bandwidth for downloading from the internet at large. Rather, it will be used internally by the cable companies for HD video on demand.

    In the DSL arena there is ADSL2+ and VDSL which have lower absolute bandwith but that bandwidth isn't shared with your neighbors as is the case with cable so the end result is a wash aside from the distance issues with DSL.

    On the wireless side of things, there is no way any service can compete with the hardwired services on speed. At some point the wireless systems have to connect to the hardwired network and that is the point where the bandwidth will be severely restricted. The telcos will treat these new providers the way they do the current CLECs.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:03PM (#22140300)
    Caps would be a very poor business decision for all the reasons mentioned in the summary and more.

    However metered billing on some sort of sliding scale (the more you use, the less each byte costs because the fixed costs of supporting a customer don't vary by bandwidth consumed) has the potential to be better for both the customers and the ISPs.

    When ISPs charge by the byte their business interest becomes aligned with their clients' interests - the more bandwidth the clients use, the more money the ISP makes and thus the more money they can afford to invest in infrastructure which means even greater amounts of even cheaper bandwidth becomes available due to economies of scale, technology improvements, etc.

    I know there are plenty of cynics out there (I am one too) who think that the ISPs would just use metered billing as a way to gouge customers rather than improve service and reduce costs - they do tend to be monopolies after all. But I don't see the current situation being sustainable (which is one reason things like network neutrality are so hot right now, with fixed pricing the only way for the ISP to make more money per customer is via tricky back-door schemes that conflict, rather than align with their customers' interests).
  • by Average (648) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:06PM (#22140342)
    The quite independent cable company in this town has always had caps. 10 GB a month on the mid-range $40+ (even more if you don't want video) plan. No cutoff, but warning and overage of $2 a GB (but you can buy add'l GBs at $1 in advance).

    I don't typically go over 10 GB. But, I absolutely *hate* worrying about what I've used. So, I live, just fine, on my 2.5/512 DSL line for $25 or so. I'm not even sure why it bothers me. I have no problem with PAYG cellphones.

    Lots of people grumble about the caps. But, the cable company is doing just fine. Most people never hit the cap. Those who do are torn between the much-much-faster cable and the hands-off DSL. If they want cable (I'm in the deep minority who would rather have a rooftop antenna than pay $675 a year for TV that still has ads), they'll probably get a cable modem.

    It's not about bandwidth from the headend to the home. They can shape that, price that, and build that out. It's about fiefdoms and petty accountants. People who won't sign off on intra-Tier 2 peering agreements because they can't make a buck on it.
  • by nick_davison (217681) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:08PM (#22140384)

    Instead of developing plans designed to discourage consumers from feeding at the bandwidth trough, cable companies would be better served in the long run by making investments in new technologies like DOCSIS 3.0 and the kind of infrastructure improvements necessary to meet bandwidth demands.
    When my connection could manage text, I sucked down all the text I could get. When my connection could manage images, I sucked down all the images I could get. When my connection could manage audio... OK, I'm one of the few that still buys audio. When my connection could manage 320x240 video, I sucked down all I could get of that too. Now I'm downloading HD movie trailers and full CD at a time OS images and game demos.

    If the content were available, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be stopping at 1920x1080 HD video. Monitors can already handle 2560x1600 fairly commonly and all we're waiting for is someone to come up with a way to put multi-angle video in a single steam.

    What's been the limiting factor throughout? Bandwidth availability. As soon as it's available (or just becoming available), someone releases their next great idea that just hadn't taken off so far because the files were too slow to download.

    Cable companies can release 100mbps lines... They can up to 1gbps, 10gbp, 100gbps... And we'll come up with cool ways to use them.

    That's not to imply they shouldn't invest in new technologies and keep moving forward... but "just give people more" isn't a real solution either. That more will never be enough and you'll be back in the same position.

    Realizing I'm going to be mocked as the "the intertubes are a series of roads" guy... It does have a lot of parallels to the road construction argument.

    To many people, most even, the answer's simple: If there's congestion, build more and bigger roads.

    The thing is, all the research demonstrates that people will drive up to a given pain threshold. You reduce the amount of pain they feel... they drive more until they're back up to it. You spend a whole load of money, destroy the environment, and everyone complains just as much about how sucky traffic is.

    Of course, refuse to build more roads and you very quickly get voted out of office by angry commuters who "know" the system far better than any researchers with their numbers ever could. On the internets, we call them discussion boards.
  • Time Warner already has caps on bandwidth where you have to pay extra to get their "Turbo" speed. Capping the total volume used per month is the next logical step. The majority of the American people (i.e. not tech-savvy Slashdot readers) only need 5gb per month and would be very happy to have a lower bill. The wireless carriers will never come close to the raw speed of modern cable. Geeks will hate wireless and the wireless companies will soon learn to hate geeks for hogging bandwidth. The wireless co
  • by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:15PM (#22140488) Homepage
    I have been on mixed line + per-MB charges since I moved to cellular broadband and my costs have gone _down_ not up. This is compared to fixed line DSL!

    In a commercial environment the best way to make sure that you aren't being screwed is that the cost model reflects the services provided. E.g. if you have the services of line+bandwidth then paying something for the line and something for the bandwidth:

    * Increases the incentive for the line to always be working and fast.
    * Decreases the pressure to keep bit torrent queued up 25 hours a day to 'get your money's worth'.

    Any sort of unlimited bandwidth plan encourages a sort of game where supplier and customer repeatedly try and screw each other over by abusing the wording of the T&Cs. So, if you manage to arrange a contract where cost and incentive are equally shared it's much harder for everyone to end up unhappy.

    After all price = cost + markup. If the markup isn't acceptable then expect something to give - businesses that run at a loss can't survive for long.
    • Pay per usage chill innovation

      Pay per usage severely limits services that use bandwidth and normally new services uses more bandwidth

      Normally new services needs a minimum number of subscribers but subscribers do not "try it out" since it costs them money

      There is another chilling effect bound to the fact that telcos have to repay the infrastructure and will therefore bill the traffic very dearly, leading to even less bandwidth/services usage by the users

      cases of study

      X.25 switched network, it did work,

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:16PM (#22140498) Journal
    I spent four years on Sprint Broadband [sprintbroadband.com] a somewhat decent time ago... the neighborhood I lived in didn't have Cable Internet at the time, and Qwest recoiled in horror when I mentioned my neighborhood phone circuit was using the (then incompatible) "Integrated Pair Gain" tech. So, I wound up with Wireless.

    The pluses:

    • unmetered bandwidth
    • I got my own sideband slice, so my speeds were constant (1Mbps up and down)
    • $55.00 USD per month, constant. No contract extensions were tacked on when I later added a static IP
    • lag was present enough to hamper game play in an FPS (my antenna was 33 miles away from the tower), but still fairly usable
    • when cable finally did arrive, everyone else whined about speeds bogging down at certain times of the day, while I never suffered any of that
    • Sprint stopped taking on new customers when things got full (IOW, they couldn't quite 'oversell the modems' as easily as a typical ISP could)
    The minuses:
    • lag in FPS gaming. It was still playable, but tended to grate at times
    • rainstorms would degrade things a LOT (fortunately, at that time I lived in Utah, where rain was a rare thing). Sometimes an appalling mass of packets would drop during a thunderstorm, occasionally breaking connections
    • I had a 4 meter tall antenna mast on the roof with a somewhat ugly square antenna package parked atop it
    • the initial cost was $300 USD for equipment and installation

    Overall though, I'd say I was very satisfied. I experienced exactly one outage the whole time, IIRC... and it was back up in less than an hour. I'm in Oregon now, so it would be kind of impractical to use it here (it tends to rain a lot), but if they can overcome the limitations that I saw as late as 2005, then more power to 'em. It was one of the most pleasant experiences overall that I ever had with any ISP. Plus, I had the exquisite pleasure of telling a Qwest sales droid to fuck off when they finally did get DSL into the neighborhood three years later (really... 256Kpbs DSL, when I already had 1Mbps both ways? Pfft! whatever...)

    /P

  • Optical network? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiber_to_the_premises [wikipedia.org] Some countries in Asia, Europe, South America, Ocenia, Middle East and Canada already have them available in some major cities. It seems like the U.S. carriers are fairly behind in that regards. I am not sure how the regulations are setup in the U.S. and whether it allows new companies to offer FTTH (fiber to the home). Because when this is available, who is going to care about some broadband service cap?
  • by Gybrwe666 (1007849) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:18PM (#22140528)
    You know, never fails to amaze me how people are not looking at the larger picture of "services" offered by any provider, but especially by the cable companies. FTR, I used to work in business broadband sales for a major cable player, so I've seen the industry from just after the days where cable modems got installed until the dot-com boom from the inside.

    The cable companies, as we speak, are caught in a precarious situation. Several factors came into play at the same time, which has limited their ability to make huge improvements, but, if they're lucky, they might come out on top.

    So history: when cable modems first arrived on the scene, in the early-to-mid 90's, the technology was largely unproven and had tremendous issues, both technically and from a service delivery perspective. Much like the early days of DSL, the cable companies were essentially forced to re-wire infrastructure that had been in place for over a decade, sometimes up to 2 decades. Because of the technical issues, many cable executives didn't see the cost-benefit ratio of rewiring tens of thousands of miles of cities to be able to provide the service.

    Plus, if you know anything about cost, doing so was a multi-million dollar effort, cumulatively probably costing in the billions.

    However, with the advent of the dot-com boom and other highly profitable interactive services, the cable company PHB's finally got the picture and started rewiring and running fiber for the new cable plants.

    Unfortunately, this was between 95-98, just before the internet boom really got underway, and well before DSL put any pressure on them.

    As such, they did a reasonable job of getting the major metropolitan areas wired for a more modern infrastructure.

    However, they failed in one major respect: they didn't have a crystal ball, and most, if not all, the cable companies put in the minimum infrastructure to support digital services. They didn't, however, put in overcapacity.

    Now, if you swing forward 4-7 years, its pretty obvious that the cost-differential of putting in FTTP (or at least overcapacity of fiber to the neighborhood) would have been the smart thing to do. But at the time, wth DSL being crap, and no other real competition, they missed the boat. This wasn't maliciouos. They just did what they thought would be adequate.

    Now, look at cable services today. On most cable infrastructure, the highest percentage of bandwidth (out of the 1000mhz available on the plant) goes to analog TV. Those 30-50 channels take up nearly have the space, each analog channel taking 6mhz of bandwidth.

    This log-gain, low-profit bandwidth hog is the biggest impediment to modern services as they reside on the existing cable facilities.

    And now there's another problem in the works: how to handle changes in Digital Broadcasting, DOCSIS 3, and PacketCable services, especially with HD programming getting more and more relevant.

    While DOCSIS 3 has been out for over a year now, from the insiders I know its still a bit spotty on the internal side, and since many of the operators use Cisco (who fought DOCSIS 3 tooth and nail to get their own standard), they'd love to do it but are still unsure of quality. Not only that, but at least one smaller cable operator where I know the CIO is truly looking at how to deliver everything over PacketCable (TV, Phone, Data, etc.) rather than just make the leap to DOCSIS 3.

    These aren't inconsequential issues, as the decisions made now will have some serious impact on the structure of Cable services for a long time.

    And finally, when you add in the cost of maintaining hundreds of thousands of miles of fiber and copper plant, along with the huge increases in programming costs to the cable companies, along with the not-insiginificant support and CPE equipment costs of moving to Digital services, DOCSIS 3, or other advanced services, its not much wonder why the cable companies are moving a bit slowly. An error in judgement now could be fatally costly over the lon
  • ...how to squeeze as many dollars as they can out of the consumers pocket.

    Obviously any company involved in computer technology, be it R&D or application certainly know by now how fast things change. So much so that any decent size to large size company are looking towards the future. But they need money to R&D and implement the new, where the larger the company, the more finance they need.

    The way to get such finance is of course to milk what is currently implemented. For example, dialup is still be
  • by realmolo (574068) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:21PM (#22140566)
    See, you may be paying $50/month for an "unlimited" connection at 6 megabits/second. But guess what? 6 megabits of bandwidth costs your ISP *at least* twice that. If they aren't in a major metropolitan area, it can cost *50* times that.

    Bandwidth is expensive. That's why ALL bandwidth is "shared" and "oversubscribed". There simply isn't any way to provide everyone with gobs and gobs of dedicated bandwidth. That's not how it works.

    So, don't blame the cable or DSL providers. Blame the huge telcos that keep the price of bandwidth artificially high.
    • See, you may be paying $50/month for an "unlimited" connection at 6 megabits/second. But guess what? 6 megabits of bandwidth costs your ISP *at least* twice that.

      That depends on what you factor into the costs - in the cheap-side colo datacenters dedicated 1mbps can cost just under $10/month for as much bandwidth as you can afford. That's retail and includes all the data-center overhead. Cable ISPs get to spread their overhead over their television subscription fees too, so while their infrastructure costs are higher, they also have a broader base to recover them from.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evilviper (135110)

      See, you may be paying $50/month for an "unlimited" connection at 6 megabits/second. But guess what? 6 megabits of bandwidth costs your ISP *at least* twice that.

      It was ENTIRELY their decision to advertise a 6mbps "unlimited" service. If they expect users to stay under some amount of data transfer every month, they should advertise as such.

      Many, many years ago... my cable modem service was advertised as 386kbps. Yet if you were a light user, for any given week, the modem speed would double, until you sta

  • Maybe I am old fashioned here, but my problem is more along the lines of the asymetrical nature of home broadband.

    Last I checked, bandwidth on the open (business) market is symetrical. A DS-1 is 1.544 megabits up and down, a DS-3 is 45 megabits up and down, an OC-12 is 620 megbits up and down, my home cable internet is 6 meg up and 80 k down (it's advertised at 256k, but I have never seen it exceed 80 k). Yeah, I know - restricted to make home servers inpractical and all that baloney...

    It's not like it'

  • If wireless solutions are able to deliver on their promises of high speeds with no usage limits...

    Ultimately every connection is a shared connection, since all customers of a given provider are sharing the same gateway to external sites. That's why unlimited usage is an issue. Providers will advertise their endpoint bandwidths, not what's available to external sites, which is what actually matters. Customers will gladly pay a premium for a 20Mbit pipe, then wonder why they still can't transfer anything

  • OK, so WiMax is being sold by who right now?
    Nobody

    Who's going to be selling it soon?
    Sprint. Through their Xohm company.

    So it's gonna be what?
    A horrible offering with bad customer service, low availability, and an utterly nonsensical rollout plan.

    I live in Kansas City, the home of Sprint. Guess where they rolled out their 1993-new wireless PCS Service? Was it in their hometown, you know, the town that gave them a huge number of tax breaks so they'd locate their world headquarters here and where all their
    • Sprint has the lowest rated network in the US. Virgin has the highest. AND IT'S THE SAME DAMN NETWORK.
      That tells you it's not the network, stupid, it's the perception.
  • Already available (Score:3, Interesting)

    by delirium of disorder (701392) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:31PM (#22140718) Homepage Journal
    I live in a rural (slowly becoming suburban) new development that doesn't have any PSTN (Phone)lines nor cable installed yet. Fortunately, my local ISP [foxvalley.net] offers a wireless solution. It works well, although unfortunately it's based on proprietary Motorola technology [wikipedia.org]. For around $60 a month I get 4Mbit down and 1Mbit up. I have a static IP, and they let my run my web/ssh server from home. I have no formal bandwidth cap, although I was told that if I exceeded 75Gigs a month they might want to talk about upgrading to a more expensive business class connection. The ISP will sell you up to 6Mbit (symmetric) connection per antenna/subscription.
  • by porky_pig_jr (129948) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:34PM (#22140782)
    in the long run. Many years ago I worked for BBN and our group was experimenting with the first ever cable modems, that become a "Roadrunner" (still have a t-shirt). At the same time we were looking at DSL (ADSL). Both technologies had their share of problems. In case of cable modem the major issue was the fact that the bandwidth is shared among what's called "Neighborhood Area Network" (NAN), so so protocol had to be in place to insure fair share of bandwidth (as well as user's satisfaction in general). I think at that time that protocol was not the part of DOCSYS, so different vendors had their own protocols (i'm not sure if anything like that is a part of DOCSYS 3.0, or it still leaves the room for competetive advantage). But that was only one showstopper with cable modems. With ADSL things were much worse. Highly sensitive to noise on a line, distance, anything you can think of. Just read about DSL and you'll see why. The best results we had with 'rate-adaptive' modems, those that vary the rate depending on line conditions, so connection was stable, but the throughput was - BLAH. So I remember saying that seems from technical perspective cable modem technology should be more stable vs DSL. Then someone else, more experienced in business of communications that myself said: you may be right, but the cable companies are going to screw it anyway because they have no experience with broadband communications, whereas phone companies do. The guy was right, at least for a while. I still hope cable companies will take advantage of better technology/media they have in place.

    (PS. My brother switched from Verizon DSL to COMCAST data over cable a few months ago. He told me the throughput is much better and the connection is stable. He got the whole enchalada from COMCAST: cable, internet connectivity, and voice. Voice is the worst part of the package. He even changed his greetings on answering machine to: "Hello! If you can't get through within the next 30 minutes, call 1-800-COMCAST and complain!")
  • by Yath (6378) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:38PM (#22140858) Journal
    What a rubbish article.

    It isn't a "bandwidth cap". It isn't even about bandwidth. It's about usage (at least they used the term "usage" in the title).

    It isn't a "usage cap". It's tiered pricing. Your basic subscription covers a certain amount, and then you pay more. A "cap" would mean you got cut off, which you aren't.

    And it isn't even the end of the world! People who use more resources pay more. Sounds pretty efficient. Now you may quibble that the specific prices they set are high due to low competition, and that's one area where Ars may have a point. But god you have to wade through a lot of crap to get there.
  • Will I have to pay for ads too? Or will Time Warner block them. That alone may get more people to sign up.
  • Comca$t disappointed the analysts, but cable is still bulletproof, and with the cost of everything else doubling every year, why shouldn't they raise rates?
    • Comca$t disappointed the analysts, but cable is still bulletproof, and with the cost of everything else doubling every year, why shouldn't they raise rates?

      Shhhh! Don't give those bastards any ideas! Although it probably doesn't matter anyway ... it's not like those idiots don't raise their rates several times per year anyways,...

  • If wireless solutions are able to deliver on their promises of high speeds with no usage limits

    Okay, so we get shared wired connections and things can go slow because people are trying to use their 'unlimited' broadband. Random maths: 1GB pipe / 1000 customers != actual speed caps on accounts (which can be up to 24MBps now and 1MBps is becoming a rare bottom end).

    So instead we'll all move to wireless, because that has no problems with sharing the available bandwidth/airwaves? What? Sorry, but last I checked

  • by jesdynf (42915) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:59PM (#22141206) Homepage
    The day I pay per byte is the day I install AdBlock. There's no contest. There's no way around it. If I pay for the ads -- or even if I pay for the DNS requests to resolve the ads -- I don't request the ads.

    They can't whitelist every ad server in Creation, and if I pay for even one ad, that's one ad too many. Not happening. I'll even block Google's scripts. And I'll do the same for every member of my family.
  • by rickb928 (945187) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:05PM (#22141318) Homepage Journal
    ...if they stopped sending me 12 fracking pieces of junk mail every month. Each.

    I changed from Qwest to Cox for broadband, and ditched my Qwest landline. Since then I get not only the regular mail pieces begging me to take Qwest VOIP, or just POTS, or ANYTHING, PLEASE!

    And I get Cox mail, both asking me to buy what I ALREADY HAVE, and of course to buy what I gave up from Qwest.

    Seriously, they could cut their costs list a little with smarter mailing lists.

    As if.
  • I can see how they're setting themselves up for failure. Apparently, they failed to notice that the vast majority of users exceed those proposed limits on a regular basis. I mean, it's not like it's a few obsessive downloaders who use up most of the bandwidth, while the rest of the population is checking e-mail and surfing CNN. And it certainly doesn't make sense to charge those obsessive downloaders more than the other folks. And if upstart wireless providers start to become viable and provide meaningf
  • by brassman (112558) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:29PM (#22141736) Homepage
    "If wireless solutions are able to deliver on their promises of high speeds with no usage limits,"

    Excuse me? NO usage limits? At all? Even if you envision the wireless solution as a peer-to-peer cloud rather than a fix for the last mile issue, 'no usage limit' sounds unrealistic.

    Assume that everyone who comes to the cloud brings excess capacity to the party. Assume that the cloud is given free rein to use the spectrum currently being wasted (IMHO) on broadcast TV and radio. Is even that going to be enough to sate everyone's demand for rich media?

    When (not if) the cloud needs to connect to a backbone, there is certainly going to be a limit there.

    If we're talking about service at a price that a mere mortal can afford I expect there will be limits, and they will be set low enough to pinch.
  • by Deviant (1501) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @06:53PM (#22146652)
    I am an American who has been living in Australia the last few years. All Cable/DSL services here have usage caps and you pay for faster speeds / more downloads. When I first moved here the idea of the usage caps pissed me off but I have warmed to them. I pay ~US$60/month for 8 megabit down and 384 kbit up DSL with a static IP. I get 24 gigabytes per month and any downloads I do from 1am to 8am are counted at half so it is really more like 30 to me most months. They have a usage meter website that is updated about once per hour and is quite accurate telling me how I am using. If I go over I pay $4/gigabyte.

    This is great for a number of reasons. Firstly, everybody has a motivation to do their non-essential torrents etc overnight which improves gaming/voip performance during the day and peak evening hours. Secondly, I have an agreement with my provider where I get such and such amount of data at such and such speed and we are both on the same page - I will never get an email saying to use less and hassling me like I received from Adelphia (now Time Warner I believe) before I left. It doesn't serve as a huge deterrent but it is enough to ensure that you don't waste a precious resource (bandwidth) as readily. If you bought electricity, water, or natural gas on an "unlimited" basis don't you think that would lead to waste as well?

    I think that the current "unlimited" system does a disservice to many on a shared-bandwidth medium like cable as well. A few teenagers on a street who saturate their connections 24/7 downloading things like the entirely of the Simpsons etc they may never actually watch make the rest of the neighboorhood slow for things like telecommuting and voip that are much more essential and time-critical. There is no reason/incentive for them to stop or to try to do their larger torrents overnight etc. It is also the shadyness of what the limit really is on the "unlimited" service questions. All in all we can argue about where the pricing and the cap are set but I think the idea is sound and reasonable. They will always let you do what you want but you may have to pay more for a service where you can download 100GB/month than granny pays to do 1-2% of that - as you should.

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