Archives For Broadband

Bandwidth Caps: Round 27

Mari Silbey —  April 16, 2009


Get used to it. We’re going to be talking about bandwidth caps for a long time to come. To sum up the latest happenings, Time Warner Cable sparked fresh outrage with the recent news that it would be testing consumption-based billing beyond Beaumont Texas. Then lots of other cable operator folks jumped in with their two cents on metered broadband and whether they would or would not consider it. Now NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow weighs in with his perspective that testing a new form of pricing is just that, a test. Let the experiment play out and continue to have open dialogue.

I have pretty strong opinions on cable and Internet video because I work in the business. (NOTE: My opinions do not reflect those of my employer Motorola.) However, I don’t  come down squarely on either side of the issue. I don’t like bandwidth caps, and would prefer not to have them, but at the same time I don’t believe that operators are trying to protect their television turf by inhibiting online video. Among several other reasons, many of the content companies out there aren’t going to suddenly slide in line with the everything-for-free-on-the-Web approach. These companies like the revenue they get from cable licensing agreements. Unlike over-the-air broadcast networks, they depend on cable revenue in addition to the income they bring in from advertising. So everything you want to see isn’t going to end up on Hulu or (Try to find full episodes of Mythbusters, Dirty Jobs or Trading Spaces online, not to mention ESPN content) And that takes away a lot of the threat to the cable subscription model.

I do believe, on the other hand, that cable operators want to set a precedent now with metered billing to get consumers used to the idea that bandwidth isn’t free. As I said, I don’t like caps, and as a consumer I don’t want them, but reasonable caps are, well, reasonable. For example, Comcast’s 250GB cap completely satisfies my needs today. I want to believe that the cap will go up as my demand goes up, and if the cap ceiling rises so that it’s always the equivalent of what 250GB gives me today, then I’m okay with that. There will always be arguments about what’s “reasonable”, and I’m okay with that too. Let’s continue to debate it.

I also understand the innovation argument and agree there should be room under the cap for continued innovation. Again, how much room? What’s reasonable? We should continue to ask those questions.

Bandwidth caps aren’t likely to disappear, so it’s good that they inspire such public debate. One motion I can get behind: Please give us effective bandwidth meters! If an operator’s going to cap my broadband usage, I should at least be able to measure it.


The embargo-phobic Michael Arrington, of TechCrunch fame, may have staged a “Crunchpad” leak to build buzz for his upcoming web tablet. I appreciate the economical and minimalistic hardware project goals. However, the relatively quaint notion of a single function Internet device may not fly in 2009. Those modern “netbook appropriate chipsets” enables so much more – why cripple restrict yourself to Firefox running in kiosk mode? Make it the default mode if you must, but how about also including Skype, IM, VNC, VLC, and photo organization software. Like a large number of phones and netbooks being offered at a similar $300 price point. He’s onto something with the larger (12″) screen (and kitchen counter stand), but my ideal couch-based computing device is much more than a browser. It’s also yet to be seen if Arrington’s assembled a team that’s prepared to handle the marketing, sales, and ongoing support (and related expenses) of a CE venture.


Add this to your list of recent ironical* happenings. The FCC held an open meeting yesterday to discuss, among other things, a national broadband plan. I had every intention of following the meeting via the streaming feed on the FCC website, as I’ve attempted in the past. Unfortunately, badly pixelated video was followed by an unending 10-second audio loop and ultimately by a complete stream crash. When I tried to log back on, I got the message you see above. So much for “openness” and “broadband”.

On a more serious note, the FCC is opening the floor to public comment in an attempt to gain input on how broadband policy should play out over the coming years. The goal is to get more people connected, instill and/or maintain reasonable privacy measures, keep data secure, and ensure broadband openness to drive further innovation. As The Washington Post points out, one immediate problem is the fact that the FCC process may move too slowly to take advantage of much of the money in the broadband stimulus bill. Unfortunate that, but the government will attempt to make the best of the situation by funding projects to bring broadband to areas that clearly lack Internet service today.

Want to dig deeper on broadband policy? I recommend reading up over at And, as always, if you’re looking for a highly skeptical (and highly informed) take on broadband industry doings, stay tuned to Broadband Reports.

*The use of “ironical” was intentional.

Cable and Wireless

Mari Silbey —  April 2, 2009


Even though most of the wireless action is out at CTIA this week, there is a presence at The Cable Show as well. From the live WiMAX network (I scored a loaner USB dongle in the Motorola booth) to the Clearwire van driving through Broadband Nation, cable wants to make it clear that it’s not taking its eye off the wireless business. Other than the odd comment from Suddenlink in a general session yesterday, most of the cable operators are heavily promoting their wireless activities.

Which takes us to this morning. Cablevision issued a press release stating that customers have accessed the operator’s free Wi-Fi services (for home broadband subscribers) more than a million times in the program’s short life span. One of the subheads from the release: “Company Surpasses a Million Mobile Internet Connections as Optimum Online Customers Take Advantage of the Convenience of Free Wireless Web Access that is Reliable and Faster than Costly Cell Phone Data Plans.” (emphasis my own)

The language is a bit over the top, but Cablevision does have a point about the insane prices for mobile broadband data packages in 3G America. I pay big money for broadband at home, and I have to spend $60 a month to access broadband on the go too? I’ve always had a problem with that. Both on principle and from the standpoint of my pocketbook. It’s part of why I’m excited by the potential business model change that WiMAX represents.

In any case, if I traveled the New Jersey transit lines more often, I’d be one of the thousands of new users accessing free Wi-Fi every week too. As it stands, the local Wi-Fi coffee shop gets plenty of my business. Maybe cable should do a deal with them.


I’ve dabbled in “the cloud” for some time. The majority of my digital photos were (publicly) hosted on Flickr until I tired of repeated theft reports and Yahoo censorship incidents. And for awhile, I was backing up on Mozy’s servers. More recently, I tried to replace iDisk, MobileMe photo galleries, and Mozy with a SugarSync subscription – but it hasn’t really met my, perhaps unreasonable, expectations.

Also, there’s the matter of cloud privacy and longevity… Most services extol the virtues of their data protection schemes. Yet, most are protected by a simple password. Which can be lost. Or that encrypted data may inadvertently be shared. While data loss and downtime can also be issues, a bigger concern is companies pulling the plug. And this isn’t an issue limited to failed startups. Both HP and Yahoo are shuttering cloud services this month. Not to mention Yahoo sucked the life from and then blew up the top worldwide Internet photo repository. If you can’t rely on a major Internet player like Yahoo to keep their doors open for service, who can you trust?

Bringing us to the concept of a “personal” cloud, which probably begins with local networked storage. While many computer geeks are comfortable tunneling home or “terminaling” in, we’re starting to see some more consumer-friendly solutions come to market. Apple’s recently updated MobileMe service ($99/yr) facilitates access to a Time Capsule or external drive (“airdisk”) via Back to My Mac. While the concept is good, the execution appears to be lacking. Gizmodo reports connectivity issues and only OS X is supported.

At CES, I spent some time checking out the promising Pogoplug ($80) – which is both a device and a service. The small Linux device, available next month, turns any USB drive into both local and remote networked storage. Accessible from a variety of operating systems, web browsers, and the iPhone. I hope to take an early look at this hybrid cloud solution (your drive, their web service) in the near future.


One of the selling points of true cloud storage is off-site backup. Which isn’t really addressed by a home cloud solution. Perhaps, it’s time for the distributed storage of a “family cloud”. And maybe more generous broadband caps with a bandwidth meter, Comcast.


In a trip over to Comcast’s Flash Drive building a while back, I noticed the “coming soon” sign on a space designed for a new Sony Style store. I thought it a bit curious to have an unrelated CE store housed in Comcast’s headquarters so I took a quick photo. Turns out Comcast and Sony are teaming up. Sounds like the store will be part commerce site and part Comcast showcase, with the operator showing off 100-Mbps broadband connections and tru2way TVs.

Interesting move for Comcast. It certainly makes sense to have a showcase in the Philly building. The question is: how far into retail will Comcast dabble beyond that? At the moment the operator bundles services with modems in places like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, but is it now looking to follow the Verizon Experience store model? Stay tuned.

The new Comcast/Sony store opens March 17th.


The analyst firm Infonetics came out with a report this week on the Broadband CPE market. CPE stands for customer premises equipment and refers to the home devices attached to a broadband network – everything from modems, to set-tops, and lately new gadgets like femtocells and a variety of home management controllers. Jeff Heynen, author of the report, sees short-term, recession-driven declines in the market, but also projects longer-term growth. I interviewed Jeff for a more detailed account of what types of gadgets he things we’ll see from cable and telco providers over the next several years. Here’s what he had to say.

Interview with Jeff Heynen, Directing Analyst, Infonetics Research

Q. One of the things you mention in your report is that you think we’ll see growth in broadband connections from 2010 to 2013 to support “converged” services – “voice, video, and high-speed Internet now, and home monitoring and automation services later.” What kinds of products do you think will support these services? Will we see more devices like the Verizon Hub and the AT&T HomeManager? They don’t seem to be getting much traction now.

A. Those two products are very early concepts for how home communications systems might work. The traction for those products is bad for any number of reasons, including macroeconomic conditions, their price points, and a general confusion among subscribers as to their utility. I really think both providers missed out on integrating some femtocell capabilities in those devices, rather than introducing separate femtocell gateways with yet another recurring fee. Why not combine the two, increase mobile reception in the home, while providing a low-cost, high-featured VoIP line to increase ARPU on a fixed broadband connection?

In the short-term, we really see growth in digital home gateways, which combine a modem, gateway, IAD (EMTA), and some type of home networking function (MoCA, HPNA,, etc.). Operators will be able to monitor these devices and their performance remotely and effectively move their sphere of influence into the home to ensure the stable performance of all their services, especially video.

Q. With potential growth in home monitoring and automation services, do you think we’ll see more supporting products (like cameras and home controllers) come to market through retail, through service providers, or through a hybrid retail-product-bundled-with-service model?

A. I think the hybrid approach, where operators distribute their own systems, but also have their own areas within retail stores, selling bundled packages is the likeliest scenario.

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