Monday, October 26, 2009

Adventures in Remodeling - Part 3: Come Together (right now...over me)

Day 4: October 15th, 2009

Now that the walls, floor, and ceiling were devoid of any plaster or concrete it was time to insulate and run the new electrical. While unfortunately the mess of 8 wires in the ceiling junction box could only be feasibly reduced to a mess of 6 wires, the reduction of those two wires made a noticeable difference. Two new outlet boxes were installed on the north-facing wall where the sink was - one for a outlet/switch combo and one for the vanity light.

Previously we had blown insulation on the outside wall only. This time we insulated with roll insulation which was quite a bit less messy. Just for good measure the entire room was insulated both for thermal properties and for noise-canceling properties.

Lastly we needed a sub-floor not only as a base for the cement backer board for the tile that will eventually be laid, but also for a more traversable surface on which to work. Unfortunately the dimensions of the floor to be surfaced were just slightly too big to fit on a single 4x8 sheet of plywood, so we used two 4x8 sheets of 1/4" plywood. It had to be so thin in order to fit under the edge of the existing tub and I didn't want to bury the toilet pipe in the floor by making the floor too deep.

Day 5: October 16th, 2009

After all the demolition and some light reconstruction it was finally time to pass the baton to our drywaller, Ty. His crew of three guys came to the house to hang the green board in the bathroom and hang some normal drywall in the bedroom. They made fairly quick work of it taking only two hours or so to complete the job. Wham bam thank you ma'am and they were gone.

Days 6,7,8: October 17th, 18th, and 19th, 2009

The next few days Ty stopped over to begin the process of mudding the drywall and making all those minor defects and gaps disappear. Ty didn't take very long either to mud all five walls and the ceiling. He did relate a fun fact to me however. Did you know that up until around 1980 drywall cement contained asbestos as an additive to keep it from shrinking? Apparently with asbestos added, drywall cement could be applied and it would dry exactly as applied in one day. Naturally, asbestos was removed as an additive from concerns about its health impact and no non-carcinogenic substitute has been found to keep drywall cement from shrinking which is why it's always a multi-day process of mudding, sanding and re-applying.

The magic of drywall cement and a skilled hand made several gaps and holes disappear. Unfortunately when the first team hung the drywall the completely missed one of the outlet boxes (I guess it was flush with the stud instead of standing out from it) so Ty had to do some exploratory cutting on the north (sink) wall to find it. And find it we did. A little more mudding and you could hardly tell there was ever a problem.

Days 9,10,11: October 20th, 21st, and 22nd

Once the drywall was done it was time to prime the inside of the bathroom and paint the ceiling so we wouldn't need to worry about dripping paint into the brand new tub and enclosure. Since priming isn't all that interesting I'll just skip to the tub installation.

Day 12: October 23rd

At last the fruits of our labor were about to pay off in something a bit more aesthetically pleasing than drywall (apologies to Ty) - a new tub and surround. For this job we hired Bath Fitter to break up and remove our old porcelain-covered cast iron tub and replace it with an acrylic tub and one-piece custom-fitted surround enclosure. The enclosure runs all the way to the ceiling. In addition, they were to frame the bathroom window on the west side wall, replace all the existing bath hardware, and install a new anti-scald valve in the plumbing behind the tub.

The two-man crew arrived at 8:30am, about 30 minutes earlier than I had expected, and worked all day until about 6pm. Bath Fitter's claim is they will do everything they're contracted to do in one day and clean up after themselves when they leave. They did hold up that claim and there was very little evidence remaining of their presence aside from the new tub and surround.

However, not everything went as smoothly as one would hope. In the process of installing the anti-scald valve a pipe was twisted and broken in the wall between the basement and the second floor. This resulting in two more people showing up to the house - a plumber and a Bath Fitter supervisor.

They asked Dawn for permission to cut a hole in our downstairs front room wall, just under the thermostat, in order to access the break and repair it. She gave them permission of course because frankly it wasn't likely to be fixed any other way and that's a better place to cut a hole than the dining room side of the same wall.

Somewhere in all this pipe fixing it was deemed necessary (without asking permission) to cut into my new subfloor in the bathroom. I cannot fathom why they needed to do this since there are only two pipes covered by the floor - the toilet drain and the sink drain - neither of which would be involved in fixing this breakage. If they were exploring under the floor I would have preferred a call or text from Dawn and I could tell them exactly what was under there. As such, I was left with a somewhat structurally unsound floor on the right side because they cut it in a way that the newly-unsecured piece was free to bob up and down as people walked across it.

I also found my cold water shut-off valve broken for no adequately explained reason and no mention of it to either Dawn or myself, just like the floor cut. The wood cover I had crafted to go over the toilet train was missing (and found stuffed under a pipe under the floor section they had cut) and one of the bolts for the toilet base was lost in the process as well (it had been fairly well attached to the toilet drain pipe head and provided a stop for the wood on top of the pipe).

When I got home I was left with a lovely new bath tub that worked, a lovely new surround and bath hardware, a cut up sub-floor, a broken valve handle, a hole in my downstairs wall, mysteriously low water pressure in the basement sink from the level it had been at in the morning, and no idea if Bath Fitter intended to pay for the repairs to my wall and/or stick me with the bill for the plumber. I called and left a message that night and am waiting to hear back from them. Hopefully we can sort this all out and I can still recommend them to others. At this point however, I would not recommend Bath Fitter if you have an older home with less than good condition pipes.

Days 13 and 14: October 24th and 25th, 2009

It's starting to look a bit more like a bathroom again after adding new lighting fixtures on the ceiling and the vanity. Ty is coming back on Monday to patch up some nicks and dents in the wall caused by the Bath Fitter installation crew.

Dawn seems to be pleased with the new tub after she took a relaxing bath in it on Sunday. No more stupid shelf in the back of the tub keeping her from being able to lie down almost completely (it is a 5 ½' tub). Spooks our cat also appears to like the new tub because there more room to sit and walk around on the edges now.

Update: Bath Fitter returned my call and the supervisor who was at my house explained why the floor had been cut, apologized for the cold water valve and offered to at least provide me the replacement part (because I said I can do the replacement myself), and made some tentative offer to possibly split the cost of the plumber based on how much it cost. Normally plumbing-related costs due to poor existing infrastructure is on the homeowner, which I can understand. He also asked if we needed someone to come repair the marks in the wall. This makes me feel a little better about Bath Fitter though I would have rather not had to call and ask why things were damaged or broken.

Here are a few more pictures...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Adventures in Remodeling - Part 2: Man vs. Floor

Day 2: October, 12th, 2009

With the bedroom wall down, it was time to put some plastic up in its place to help contain the dust from the remainder of the bathroom demolition. Dawn was wise enough to cover our bedroom furniture with various items to protect them from terrible terrible plaster dust. Alas, the carpet in the bedroom may have met its match this year - we'll see when it's all said and done (but I'm not holding out much hope).

Today the task was primarily removing the remainder of everything in bathroom except the floor. The lessons learned from the previous day's adventure suggested a bit more caution and a bit less sledge hammer. Suffice it to say no other walls collapsed in the demolition of the remaining three sides.

As you can see from the photos, the dust was abundant as it stuck to the plastic in the very hot and humid room (ewww sweat!). Fortunately the removal of all the rest of the tile and plaster was without event.

Day 3: October
13th, 2009

With all the walls down only the tile floor remained. Plaster, once again my nemesis, prevented me from using the sledge hammer full force lest I wish to redo my entire dining room ceiling.

For this task, my friend Ray stopped over to give me a hand (I called in a favor owed) and together we set about cracking
into this floor.

What I was expecting was tile and concrete. What I was not expecting was tile and 2 - 2 ½ inches of concrete interwoven with more razor wire mesh! I was also expecting under the tile and concrete there would be a sub-floor, but no such luck just thicker and thinner areas of concrete.

At first getting the tile out was like pulling teeth...healthy teeth. That is to say it was very slow going and took a lot of energy. But with some luck (and very careful, light sledge hammering) we were able to pull up larger and larger sections of concrete until one 2' x 2' corner of tile and concrete remained.

With a great heave and some ve
ry heavy lifting we carried this last section down the stairs and out to the dumpster.My guess is this single section of tile and concrete was easily 120 pounds. It was quite a lump to carry between the two of us. Unfortunately I did not get any photos of the floor's demolition, but Dawn was kind enough to snap a few shots the next morning of a segment of the behemoth in the dumpster and resulting "floor".

Here are a few more pictures:



Next: Part 3 - Come Together (right now...over me)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Adventures in Remodeling - Part 1

What do you do when you have a small water pipe leak in your bathroom ceiling that destroys part of the ceiling and wall? Step 1: turn off the water to those pipes and then ignore it for two years.

Eventually however, that large hole with the raggedy plaster and lathe edge staring down at you from above the toilet must be fixed and so this year we decided to embark on one of the most ambitious do-it-yourself home improvements we've ever attempted: complete remodeling of the upstairs bathroom.

Our bathroom, a 7' wide x 9' long x 9' tall room with a toilet, 5 ½' cast iron bathtub coated in porcelain, and a long single-paned window in the tub wall is not a large room. How hard could it be?

Day 1: Saturday, Oct. 10th

The dumpster arrives in our driveway and I head upstairs to remove the toilet, dismantle the vanity and disconnect our shower head before attempting to pummel the tile walls to bits.

Dawn kicked off the festivities by taking a hammer to all the protruding ceramic
wall attachments such as the cup holders in the wall above the sink, the two towel bars, and soap dish above the tub, and the toilet paper holder in the wall near the toilet. She then proceeded to hammer down some plaster on the right side of the door.

Our first surprise came when I wrestled the old recessed medicine cabinet out of the wall and discovered a pile of old, used disposable razor blades in a pile behind the vanity. Gillette, Schick, some unreadable - there must have been about four dozen of these razor blades. It all made sense now, the small slit in the back of the medicine cabinet with a small black arrow pointing down in to the slit, sort of like a biohazard sharps unit, but much too narrow for anything that size.

The blades themselves seemed to be too new to be original to the house, so they probably came about much later with the introduction of the vanity. Then again, the recess in the wall appears to be built specifically for this vanity so I'm not sure what the actual time line of this travesty is.

Suffice it to say we were put off a bit by the rather careless design of this medicine cabinet. With the removal of the medicine cabinet, the major demolition could start.

Gentlemen, start your sledgehammers!

It should be noted at this point that my house was built in 1922. What that means in a practical sense is that my house is not built of the lightweight sorts of materials you find in homes today. Quite the contrary. My house is built from solid hardwoods, plaster, and concrete (we'll get to the concrete in a bit). Plaster is not fun to work with. Nay, I think one does not work with plaster so much as curse it because it has a tendency to crack when stressed and creat
e a holy unbreathable mess (also wholly unbreathable).

Armed with goggles, a head wrap, gloves, a respirator mask and a sledge I took to the south side wall (the one with the toilet) to see what lay in wait for me under the acres of tile. After a few good whack and bits of porcelain sailing about I realize the tile is adhered to the wall using about and inch of concrete smeared over some viciously sharp slitted metal mesh which is nailed to the lathe on the studs of the wall. Fun.

After some time messing about with various ways to remove this incredibly resilient concoction, I found the best way to take it off was in large, extremely heavy chunks. First I'd smash the tile straig
ht on with the sledge to loosen the concrete, and then using a pry-bar I'd pry the mesh from the lathe. When I was lucky a 30 lb. slab of tile, concrete, and what can really only be described as razor wire would come crashing down at (or sometimes on) my feet.

Finally after a couple hours of this I was finally able to see the light. Literally, I saw the light from my bedroom window shining through my bathroom lathe. It took a few seconds to dawn on me that I
should not be seeing any light shining through my bedroom wall.

Uh oh! The drywallers just got a little more business. Nothing left to do but tear the whole wall down so it can be replaced with new drywall an
d painted. Don't you just love these little project "expanders"?

That pretty much sums up the first day of remodeling. Here are a few more pictures to enjoy.





Tomorrow: Part 2 - Man vs. Floor

Thursday, April 30, 2009

For a tech-savvy president, Obama doesn't get it

Today the Obama administration's Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, put Canada on the U.S. "Priority Watch List" of nations in need of copyright reform as the administration sees it.

It's been troubling to see a president who claims to "get it", who is addicted to his Blackberry, and who has harnessed the power of the Internet and free services such as Twitter to win a campaign turn around and appoint not one or two, but five Department of Justice positions to RIAA-friendly lawyers. He has also sided with the RIAA in upholding the notion that $150,000 penalty per infringement is not an excessive penalty....for a $1 song.....right.

My initial enthusiasm for candidate and president-elect Obama to create and appoint the nation's first Technology secretary cabinet position has now turned to horror. While Obama's choice for CTO of the nation was lauded by some I remain leery, especially given his choice in technology-related lawyers.

For a man surrounded in tech he's surprisingly ignorant of the futility of "intellectual property" (IP) and its enforcement. Do people have a right to their work? Absolutely. Should IP be protected and enforced? Sure, why not? Are we doing it right? NO WAY!

IP is a fancy way of saying "something I thought up that I don't want you to copy." We already have laws in place governing copying written works known as copyright laws. Some, including myself, think they are overly generous for the copyright owner and do not encourage ongoing creativity because a single solid gold idea that is copyrightable can become a cash cow for the rest of one's life (or longer). Additionally thanks to current copyright laws, that material will likely never make it into the public domain for future generations to enjoy once it is no longer profitable.

The biggest problem with IP as I see it in the U.S. is that there are generally two ways to protect it: copyright and patents. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to focus on copyright.

These days in the U.S. copyright is given to everyone and anyone the instant they put a thought into a medium, such as paper, canvas, marble, or a computer file. Copyright can also be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) which provides a little better leverage in a dispute between two copyright holders about who came up with what first.

Originally copyright was not automatically granted and you had to pay for it annually with a limit on the number of years you could renew the copyright protection. The purpose of copyright as stated in the U.S. constitution is:
The Congress shall have Power ... To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries
Key in that passage are the words "promote" and "limited". Since those words were penned the United States Code including the Copyright Act of 1976 which laid the foundation for today's laws has been modified dozens of times. The current incarnation of the copyright portions of the United States Code include the following:
  • piracy and counterfeiting provisions
  • provisions for computer code
  • protections for records (music recordings)
  • protections for semiconductor chip designs
  • protections for vessel hull designs
  • extensions of protection both in scope and duration (such as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act or CTEA which extends copyright to the artists lifetime plus 70 years)
  • perpetually auto-renewing registrations
  • transfer of copyright, involuntarily in some cases
  • protections for tv programming transmissions
  • provisions for satellite providers
  • large monetary remedies for infractions
  • computer software rental protections
  • criminal punishment for gross violations of an otherwise civil nature
  • exemptions for dining establishments
  • provisions making circumvention of copyright protection devices illegal (Digital Millennium Copyright Act - DMCA)
  • protections for business who hire for creative works
  • protections for movies and rentals
It's clear that copyright has grown wild and unwieldy since its inception. Unfortunately as we have progressed through the years we have not progressed our common sense.

What purpose does an extensive copyright provide for the copyright owner? It seems it may provide unending wealth. While this may be good for the owner, is it good for our culture? If culture does not have access to these collected works over time our culture is lost in cobwebs and dimly lit corners of warehouses and collector's cellars.

Long copyright extensions do not promote creation of more than a few financially rewarding works. What it does promote is a lot of legal wrangling over who created something first and who copies whom. It neither promotes science or the useful arts nor is a limited amount of time.

Some argue that life plus 70 years is a limited amount of time for a copyright until you realize that the copyright can be transfered and renewed from the author's death to descendants or to his estate which may not end.

Where would we be today if we did not have any of the works of Shakespere, Bach, Bethooven, DaVinci, or any number of other artists and creative people whose works have moved into the public domain? No one person or entity owns all the rights to those works, and because of it everyone is free to use them to create new works (called derivitive works).

What does all this have to do with Obama? With his actions and with his support of the RIAA and all they stand for, President Obama is making a statement that the profits and interests of a few individuals are more valuable than the collected American culture. His actions show that he believes capitalism and profit come before heritage and creation of new works based on old.

I recommend reading more on copyright at the Creative Commons website - a website devoted to only restricting creative works to the minimum amount necessary to protect the author from financial harm without all the heavy restrictions of U.S. copyright law. Just for fun, here's a really good winning video in a competition Creative Commons held to promote the site and the idea.

American Cable Association says tier broadband is the future

Surprised? I'm not. The American Cable Association (ACA) is as you expect a cable industry group that supports the notion of tiered, consumption-based broadband billing.

The article written on Tuesday doesn't really give any facts or metrics upon which to base such a claim and they used the tired and false analogy of utilities to get their point across.
[I] would like to pay the same price for heating bills all year round, but [I have] to pay more in those Pittsburgh winters when [I use] more. -- AC President Matt Polka
Do we really have to go over this again? Fine.

If my water service were like my Internet service, every time I turned on a faucet or took a shower or washed my clothes my water meter would leak a little bit of water that would be counted toward my usage. Also my meter would leak (from my 'used' side, not the supply side) constantly and slowly every day.

Why is my water meter leaking you say? Why can't I fix it? Because that's how my Internet usage behaves today, and we're modeling my water usage after my Internet usage. Even when I'm not online, my modem flashes and flickers away constantly talking with Time Warner and constantly being barraged by network bots and viruses trying to break into my system. This is real traffic even though I have no control over it. Additionally, when I do use the Internet for web browsing I get pop-up ads, flashing ads, streaming music and video ads -- none of which I want but all of which incur additional usage. That's why my meter leaks and I can't stop it -- I'm being charged for things I have no control over.

This is why Internet cannot be metered, at least not until there's a way for me to absolutely control my usage. At home, I can turn off every water-using device, every electrical device not on batteries, and every gas-using device and I won't get charged. I cannot do that with the Internet short of unplugging the cable modem every time I stop using the Internet (which is a ludicrous proposal for anyone, especially people with a family in case you're wondering).

I'm still waiting to hear from anyone in the industry as to what is so untenable about the current model. Given that rates always increase, why can't the cost of upgrade simply be included in the standard rate increases?

Why can't users pay for the speeds they want without having a limit on the data they transfer?

Why aren't businesses (one of the heaviest users of bandwidth) subject to this metered model?

Why must residential subscribers subsidize the business pricing model of all-you-can-eat?

Until these questions are thoroughly answered I will be a strong and vocal opponent of any metered data billing plan for Internet use.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday morning picture time

At first, this weekend's outage had me thinking they shut me off for "abuse" of their network primarily because of a lot of uploading I had done on one particular day - the Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope Linux release. So I took a snapshot of my usage graph courtesy of DD-WRT and marked it up with descriptions of my spikes in usage. I thought you might appreciate what "moderate" usage looks like.


As you can see, for not even the full month of April I've used about 23 GB of downloaded content including:
  • watching 2 hours of TV online a few times
  • downloading a couple Linux ISOs
  • uploading those ISOs via BitTorrent for 1 day
  • downloading software updates after installing the new Linux version
The rest of the days represent normal day-to-day usage:
  • VoIP phone calls (sent and received)
  • Web browsing (facebook, Stop the Cap!, Google Reader, etc.)
  • Watching online videos (YouTube.com, break.com, collegehumor.com)
  • Sending / receiving emails
While 23 GB is under Time Warner's proposed caps, it's easy to see that with a full month's worth of activity I could easily reach 30 GB under normal usage. I know what you're thinking, Linux releases aren't normal and don't happen every month, and you're right. But they are part of my normal online behavior and there will always been days now and again when I download and/or upload a lot of data. In networking terms it's a burst of usage over the month and residental customers don't usually pay for bursts, only sustained usage (actually they don't pay for usage at all and that's the point of Stop the Cap!).

This graph does not include any online gaming, serious amounts of downloading or frequent online TV / movie watching. The video streaming will probably eat up data faster than any other activity online short of downloading games from online stores like Valve's Steam.

Consider my usage if I watched 2 hours of TV online a day for a month. That means the video alone would be 60 GB of usage (1 GB /hour * 2 hrs / day * 30 days). Added to my other usage would put me (this month) at almost 80 GB of data usage.

Under Time Warner's plan that gives me two options: pay $75/month for the 100 GB tier, or pay what I do now ($55/month) and get charged an additional $20 in overage fees (bringing me back up to $75/month). So clearly, I have no choice under the new tier and it would cost me an additional $20/month from what I pay now (which is $20 more than standard service because I don't have cable and I have Turbo).

Just some food for thought. Compare your usage to mine and you'll get an idea of how you fare even without a "gas gauge".

Time Warner outage not a conspiracy

There are some who want to believe that the sweeping outage of Internet and Digital Phone for Time Warner customers this weekend was part of a purposeful "demonstration" of a so-called "Internet brown-out" due to overused capacity. This however, is just a conspiracy theory and holds no water.

Things break. Shit happens. Not everything Time Warner does is fully under their control and not everything they don't do -- such as put up some sort of notice about the outage on their cable TV stations such as RNews -- is necessarily attributable to malice, ignorance will suffice.

However, this weekends outage should be a wake-up call to anyone using the all-in-one Time Warner packages (Internet, Cable, Digital Phone) that perhaps a bit of diversity would be well-advised. Digital Phone subscribers were left without a phone and without access to 911 from 10 AM to approximately 1:15 PM on Sunday and I imagine a good portion of those people did not have an alternate phone line such as a cell phone or land line through another company.

I do not believe it's fair to pick on Digital Phone or Voice over IP (VoIP) in general as less reliable than a traditional phone line. Traditional phone lines have some benefits it's true. In a power-outage situation traditional phone lines are powered by generators usually and that low voltage power is carried over the phone line. Only wireless phones don't work in that situation (which is probably most people these days anyway). But land lines are susceptible to lightning strikes, trees and branches falling, switching station failures, and any number of other problems that can wipe out service to a large number of people. Additionally, during emergencies land line switching stations tend to get overwhelmed with calls and you start getting the "all circuits are busy" messages.

VoIP can often handle emergency situations slightly better because all voice traffic is just IP traffic and as long as the network has capacity (a problem for Time Warner according to them) and everyone isn't calling the same location, the problem is partially alleviated. Though at some point the VoIP service usually goes to a switching station and gets connected to a regular POTS PBX which can still be tied up.

VoIP also has many other benefits over traditional land lines. First off, it's usually cheaper (and I stress usually). Second, it often comes with many voice features for free that the phone company charges extra such as voicemail, caller ID, and call waiting. Third, the call quality usually does not change significantly between local and long distance calls. Again, this has more to do with the POTS switching stations that are involved on the far end, but on a complete digital connection, where the other party is also using VoIP, the call quality can far exceed traditional phone lines. And finally, most VoIP services now offer enhanced 911 (E911) services as part of their service which generally requires you to enter your home location information into their system since IP addresses are not tied to a geographic location as a traditional phone line is.

So, what are your VoIP options if not Time Warner? Glad you asked. Here's a list of several services available in the New York area and some nationwide:
  • Vonage - One of the first VoIP services and probably one of the more popular ones. This service provides a small device you plug into your computer network (modem or router) and your phone into the device. Does not require a computer to use.
  • Skype - Offers free computer-to-computer calls and low-cost VoIP calls to land lines and cell phones. Also sells phones and devices to use Skype without a computer.
  • MagicJack - Requires a computer, this is a USB device that plugs into your computer and your phone.
  • ViaTalk - NY-based web hosting company who provides excellent VoIP service (the author uses this company's VoIP services).
You can find many other service providers and reviews on this site: http://www.voipreview.org/ I'm not sure why ViaTalk gets such a bad rating on that site, but my experience has been quite stellar compared to my previous VoIP services (Vonage and SunRocket - now out of business). ViaTalk does charge monthly E911 and recovery fees for a couple bucks each monthly even with the yearly pre-paid plan.

I recommend comparing the features of each VoIP provider you consider with Time Warner's Digital Phone as well as just the price. For example, several providers offer a call forwarding service for free when your home network cannot be reached (because you've lost power, or because Time Warner's network is down - sometimes called Network Unavailable Forward) and will send all calls to a phone number of your choosing or to voicemail. I have calls forwarded to my cell phone so I don't miss any calls during a network or power outage. I don't believe Time Warner's Digital Phone offers such a feature.

As usual, it's not wise to put all your eggs in one basket.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A New Pricing Scheme Suggestion

http://a.longreply.com/130507


A response to "Brian Boyko’s Alternative Plan for “Top-Up” billing" by Brion Swanson

@BrionS on Twitter

There are several good ideas brought up in this alternative, but as a user I'm left with a feeling of the Internet becoming one of those steel national park binoculars that require me to keep pumping coins into it to keep the shutter open.

While Brian's proposal is much more equitable than Time Warner's proposals thus far, it still falls short because it's addressing the symptom of a problem not the cause of it.

The problem in this case is that Time Warner's business is involved both in access to the Internet and in providing products and services that use the Internet. Those two sides of their business are at odds with one another.

If Time Warner Cable were a wholly separate company in every sense from Time Warner and its subsidiary Time Warner Entertainment such that Time Warner Cable's only business was selling access to the Internet, then this would be a much different discussion.

Time Warner Entertainment and the media services side of the company would be competing on equal footing with Netflix, Hulu, AppleTV, and others.

Given the above backdrop we are still left with the problem of how can Time Warner the media services and Internet access company make money in a manner acceptable to their customers?

I propose another alternative approach to pricing Internet access as primarily a speed based approach with incentives at every level to use less data. It goes something like this:

• Internet access is provided in multiple tiers based solely on speed of access (50 Mpbs, 30 Mbps, 15 Mbps, 10 Mpbs, 5 Mbps, 1 Mbps -- for example)

• Pricing is set appropriately to each speed level to help offset Time Warner's build-out costs. Perhaps the top tier is $150/mo for 50 Mbps.

• Each tier provides an incremental discount for amounts of bandwidth below a specific threshold. (50 Mpbs tier has a 150GB usage threshold below which incentive discounts apply to your monthly bill.) This may be a one-time incentive to get below a specific threshold or a graduated set of incentive levels - lower usage offering more credit.

In this way, the pricing model is very simple: higher speeds cost more money, low usage can reduce customer costs further.

This plan shares many of the same benefits as Brian's plan and have a few additional:

• Customers are not surprised with overage charges...ever. At best they will receive a credit on their next month's bill.

• Heavy users are much more likely to be the ones who want the faster speeds and will pay more to get it without any data caps. This is true for upstream speeds as well - maybe especially.

• Each user's network connection is speed limited so they will never use more bandwidth than they've paid for during peak usage times. That is, a user paying for the 1 Mbps tier will never be able to download at 5 Mbps during peak hours (when there is excess bandwidth available this is not necessarily true) thus limiting the bandwidth they can use at any time, but not the data.

• No need to keep track of anything from the customer end: no gas gauges or "roll overs", just use the Internet when you want and pay for your connection speed.

As an added benefit, these new billing practices could go into effect almost immediately without having to wait for the DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades. When those are available customers can be notified of the new pricing options.

In this plan Time Warner reaps the benefits of customers paying monthly rates for the peak bandwidth usage that they will want on the infrequent occasions they actually use their full bandwidth.

This plan also takes a lot of the guesswork out of how much capacity will be demanded of the network at any given time since a user cannot go over their chosen bandwidth. In calculations of peak network usage customers can be assumed to be using no more than their subscribed amount.

Right now everyone uses the same (fluctuating) access speeds, but one person may be checking email while another is streaming a movie.

With fixed speeds, Time Warner knows that one person cannot use more than x Mbps while it's possible they're using even less bandwidth than they pay for.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mini Exposé - The American Consumer Institute: Center for Citizen Research

You may not have heard of this organization before, but it's called the American Consumer Institute: Center for Citizen Research and it came into existence around June 2005.

The organization is the creation of Mr. Stephen B. Pociask a frequent consultant for the telecommunications industry who spoke out against Net Neutrality in August 2006 and whose team of "experts" is now speaking out in favor of broadband usage caps as a benefit to consumers.

Here is the full text of the ACI About page for your reference:

The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational and research institute founded on the belief that consumers’ interests are not satisfactorily represented the wide variety of advocacy and consumer organizations that often represent small subsets of consumers and special interests; ignore distant, collateral and unintended consequences of importance to consumers; and too often mirror advocates’ political views rather than an empirical analysis of consumers’ economic welfare.

The Institute focuses on economic policy issues that affect society as a whole, and we seek to be a better and more reasoned voice for consumers by using economic tools and principles to show that markets work best for the benefit for consumers. We are committed to use of generally accepted quantitative, cost-benefit analyses of policy alternatives and their transparent application to assure that our methods can fully and fairly evaluated on their own terms by those who may disagree with our conclusions. We use economic analysis to empirically measure “consumer welfare,” rather than relying on conjecture, opinion or political leaning to judge what benefits or harms consumers.

Mr. Pociask is a rather inconsistent fellow it seems. Below is a timeline of his activities and those of his organization(s). See if you can spot the inconsistencies of his stance on the Internet and telecommunications in general:

  • October 2005 - Pociask and the ACI report their findings that older Americans are overpaying for their cable TV bills because of lack of competition.
  • August 2006 - Pociask and the ACI report their findings to Congress that Net Neutrality is only being pushed by the "financially powerful [who] earn supracompetitive returns and have significant market power" to the detriment of the consumer and the poor telcos.
  • October 2008 - Pociask advocates his 'study' findings that telecommuting and other Internet-based activities (such as email and downloading movies) is a benefit to the economy and the environment:


  • April 2009 - Larry F. Darby, an 'expert' at ACI, states that usage-based caps are beneficial to the consumer.



Despite his varied history and the eclectic suggestions of the ACI several sites suggest that the ACI has become a source of astroturfing for the telecommunications industry.

Astroturfing refers to political, commercial, or public relations campaigns that feign grassroots behaviors to promote a specific view. However, since it is deliberate and is essentially "faking" being grassroots, it got the name "astroturfing" after the artificial grass, AstroTurf.

When ACI came onto the scene against Net Neutrality (NN) all the cable operators and NN opponents jumped on board the ACI bandwagon and used it successfully to derail any NN legislation.

Once again the ACI is popping onto the scene conveninently just when Time Warner backs away from consumer uprising over its usage cap plan and waving a "study" that finds usage caps to be beneficial to consumers.

The statement from the ACI was made by Larry F. Darby, one of their residents "experts" - an economist who once was a vice president in Lehman Brothers - that shows a woefully inadequate understanding of what bandwidth and capacity mean in relation to usage. Even in his statement he fails to make a conclusive connection between capping usage and solving this alleged bandwidth problem.

As we've discussed before, usage caps do not fix a capacity problem.

It's left as an exercise to the reader to decide whether or not the ACI is to be believed as a credible group focused on the best interests of the consumer.

Open Letter to Larry F. Darby of the American Consumer Institute

This letter is in reply to an Open Letter to Senator John F. Kerry by Larry F. Darby of the Amercian Consumer Institute



Mr. Darby,

I appreciate your concerns and agree with several of your points in your letter, however I am concerned that you may be taking Time Warner Cable's word from their press releases as solid fact including their own confusion about bandwidth capacity versus Internet data consumption.

Please allow me to offer a simple comparison to help illustrate the difference between capacity and usage.

Webster's dictionary gives one definition of capacity as:
"the maximum amount or number that can be contained or accommodated <a jug with a gallon capacity> <the auditorium was filled to capacity>."[1]
Using this definition as it relates to the Internet and data, we say that the capacity of a network connection is equal to it's bandwidth, for example 10 megabits per second (Mbps). Likewise Webster defines bandwidth as:
"the capacity for data transfer of an electronic communications system."[2]
Please note, I take exception to their example as it is contrary to the definition.

Other things we are familiar with that have capacities are rooms (maximum capacity), highways (maximum number of cars at a time), and pipes (maximum amount of fluid that may pass per second). All of these capacities refer to simultaneous usage, not total usage.

The capacity of a room is not diminished when one person enters and subsequently leaves. It is only reached as they remain in the room. Likewise a highway's capacity for traffic is not reduced as cars enter AND leave, rather it's reached only when cars enter and remain.

So-called bandwidth caps as proposed by Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Comcast and others are actually not related to bandwidth at all. They do not limit the speed of your network connection - the maximum simultaneous data transfer - they limit the total amount of data.

That limit is akin to specifying a room has a maximum capacity of 1,000 people and after 1,000 people have entered (and left) the room no more may do so. Or in the case of Time Warner, any additional people to enter the room will pay an additional fee.

This extra fee does not do anything to alleviate the problem of having too many people in the room at once. It only discourages people from going into the room in the first place for fear of being the one that goes over the 1,000th person limit.

I hope this illustrates for you how "bandwidth" caps as proposed are not a solution to a capacity problem.

I agree that perhaps an emergency allotment of bandwidth should be set aside for highly time-sensitive information and services such as medical records or emergency services such as 911, but I strongly disagree with the notion that the access you pay for is somehow related to the amount of data you receive or send with that access. Additionally I strongly disagree that one subset of users are subsidizing another subset's usage.

I request that you publish the raw data used in the studies to which you refer so they may be reviewed publicly as a scientific paper would be reviewed by others in the field before it is accepted as credible and realistic.

Thank you,
Brion Swanson

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capacity%5B1%5D
[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bandwidth

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Here we go again

It's all over right? Time Warner gave in and the people's voice was heard!

Well, almost.

Time Warner has simply retreated a bit in order to regroup and attack again with their "consumption based billing" or CBB as we hip folks in the bloggerverse like to call it. CBB is by no means defeated. Indeed, what Time Warner has taken from this whole debacle is that people were simply not "educated" properly on the benefits of CBB and that's why there was so much outrage.

I'm sure it couldn't be because people just do like their freedoms to be limited in the good ol' U. S. of A. .... naaaaah.

If you can't tell, the sarcasm is dripping from my words off the screen and onto your desk. Consumption-based billing is not a solution to a capacity problem. It has many names though. In Canada, they're calling it UBB or Usage-based billing. Same rose, different name but not smelling sweet at all.

Since this seems like an incredibly hard concept to understand to folks like Time Warner and more recently Larry F. Darby, allow me to explain capacity as most people understand it.

The capacity of something is its ability to contain or accommodate a specific amount or number of something. Rooms, for example, have a capacity. Highways have a capacity. Pipes have a capacity. And finally, spoons have a capacity. Capacity deals with how much of something you can accommodate at the same time.

The amount of something is a measure of how much of that thing you have - either in a single moment or over time. As you can see in the explanation above, amount is a factor in capacity but does not define or modify it in any way.

If I have a teaspoon to use for eating soup and I have an unlimited amount of soup set before me, my capacity to eat any amount of soup is rate-limited by the size of the spoon. Having a larger spoon allows me to eat the same amount of soup faster than having a smaller spoon but does not affect how much soup in total I can eat - only how fast I can eat it.

Likewise, your Internet connection speed is your rate-limited capacity to access any amount of data on the Internet. Charging me extra money for having an extra spoonful of soup does not affect in any way the ability for others to eat soup with their own spoons.

To impact someone else's ability to eat soup you'd have to decrease the size of my spoon to make room for more people around the soup bowl. It would take me longer to eat the same amount of soup because I'm getting less content with each spoonful, but it does allow more spoons in the bowl at once. Remember, the soup is unlimited, only the access to the bowl is what limits who can get the soup.

We are paying for access to the bowl, to the Internet. We are paying for a specific spoon size and we can be expected to take a full spoonful with each pass. We are not expecting to be able to take 100 spoonfuls and then be charged per spoonful after that. Since the soup is plentiful and the size of the spoon is the capacity we've paid for, what possible justification can there be to charge us for the amount of soup we eat? Did we not pay for an all-you-can-eat buffet?

With tongue-in-cheek I feel a bit like Homer Simpson when he gets kicked out of an all-you-can-eat buffet before he's actually had his fill and files a lawsuit for false advertising.

It seems to me that if capacity is a problem for Time Warner, they should simply reduce the connection speeds they sell (and reduce the price they charge subsequently as well) so that all our spoons are smaller and more people can fit around the bowl.

If amount of data used is a problem, I want to see the numbers and know how it's possible that content provided from another network simply traveling through Time Warner's network to my computer is a burden since the data come in single-file.

The biggest misleading notion that I keep seeing from Larry Darby at the American Consumer Institute and from Time Warner is that different types of data take up different amounts of bandwidth. This is blatantly false. You can download a 5MB photo over a 54Kbps modem just as you can an 800Kb email. The former will simply take you longer.

When more bandwidth is available (larger chunks of data can be downloaded at once), then better and more advanced technologies become available such as Voice over IP (VoIP) and streaming movies. But if you did not have the ability to watch movies while they downloaded because your bandwidth was too narrow (slow speed connection), you'd simply have to wait for the movie to download before you could watch it. It does not mean you couldn't watch it. It does mean holding a conversation online would become unfeasable, but that's a slightly different matter.

Time Warner doesn't care if you watch your movie online in a streaming fashion (while it's still downloading) or if you have to download it completely before you watch it -- they just don't want you to download it period!

That, my friends, is why caps based on how much you download is not acceptable, ever.

The Power of YOU

Today Time Warner announced that they will not be rolling out any sort of usage cap in Rochester, NY at this (or any foreseeable) time.

Well done to everyone!

Potent Quote of the day
(shamelessly stolen)
"All this consumer demand making a difference... Brings new meaning to "The Power of You" -- TWC's slogan" - elvo86

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reality check: Do Time Warner's new plans make sense?

Let's face it, Time Warner Cable's newly proposed Internet usage caps have caused a lot of controversy. Opponents say the changes will cost the average user more money while Time Warner Cable representatives claim it will save some people money and not affect at all the majority of everyone else.

In an effort to understand Time Warner's side of the story, I sat down with a big mug of hot tea, some relaxing music, and loaded up their 2008 SEC Annual Report (linked on the right side of this blog). In it, most everything about the company is explained in legalese but enough English for the average person to muddle through.

The Annual Report discusses the structure of Time Warner Cable as they relate to Time Warner Incorporated, Time Warner NY Cable Incorporated, and Time Warner Entertainment. It's a fascinating bit of reading of you can stay awake while reading it. The report also defines the services Time Warner Cable provides, what its revenues were year over year from 2006 to 2008, its costs, and its perceived threats to the business.

Below you'll find an interesting and poignant fact from the report and placed next to a statement made by Landel Hobbs, the Chief Operating Officer of Time Warner Cable.

I've also created what I consider to be a common use scenario, relative amounts of bandwidth for said activities and how they stack up against each usage plan.

He Said, They Said

Landel Hobbs (4/9/2009)
With the ever-increasing flood of content on the Internet, bandwidth consumption is growing exponentially. That’s a good thing; however, there are costs associated with this increased Internet usage. Here at Time Warner Cable, consumption among our high-speed Internet subscribers is increasing by about 40% a year. As a facilities based provider, we’ve built a network that must be maintained and upgraded. We have increasing variable costs and we have to continue to invest in the network itself.
SEC Filing (12/31/2008)
(Capital expenditures, pg. 73)











Year Ended December 31,
(in millions)200820072006
Customer premise equipment$ 1,628$ 1,485$ 1,125
Scalable infrastructure600604568
Line extensions350372280
Upgrades/rebuilds315315151
Support capital629657594
Total capital expenditures$ 3,522$ 3,433$ 2,718


Landel Hobbs (4/9/2009)
Rather than raising prices on all customers or limiting usage, we think the fairest approach is to move to a tiered model in which users pay more if they use more.


Old TW Plans vs. Proposed TW Plans
(from web statements on a.longreply.com, Twitter from AlexTWC, and the original BusinessWeek article)








Existing Plans*
Monthly PriceSpeed Down/UpData LimitCost per GB
$15 Lite768 Kbps/128 KbpsNONEnegligible
$25 Basic1.5 Mbps/384 KbpsNONEnegligible
$35 Standard10 Mbps/1 MbpsNONEnegligible
$45 Turbo15 Mbps/2 MbpsNONEnegligible

* - Internet-only subscribers pay $10 more at each tier











Proposed Tiers
Monthly PriceSpeed Down/UpData LimitCost per GBOverage Fee per GB
$ 15768 Kbps/128 Kbps1 GB$ 15$ 2
$ 3010 Mbps/1 Mbps(?)10 GB$ 3$ 1
$ 45(?)10 Mbps/1 Mbps(?)20 GB$ 2.25$ 1
$ 50(?)10 Mbps/1 Mbps(?)40 GB$ 1.25$ 1
$ 55(?)10 Mbps/1 Mbps(?)60 GB$ 0.91$ 1
$ 7510 Mbps/1 Mbps100 GB$ 0.75$ 1
$ 9950 Mbps/5 Mbps150 GB$ 0.66$ 1

(?) indicates these are guesses because no actual numbers have been released at the time of writing

Realistic Usage Scenarios


Under the new pricing plan (regardless of the costs to TWC), customers have to choose between how much data they consume, how fast they want their connection, and how much they are willing to spend but no matter what they can't have what they have now.

There simply is no exact equivalent to any existing plan. So-called "light" users will perhaps choose a low plan like the $15/month one, but be saddled with DSL speeds, an impossibly low 1GB monthly usage cap and an exorbitant $2/GB overage fee. However a so-called "moderate" user who might have standard RoadRunner now at $40/month will pay the same amount but potentially hit their cap (10 or 20 GB) and incur up to $75 in overage fees bringing the grand total to $115/month.

Below are what I consider to be common usage patterns or scenarios and the associated conservative bandwidth usage followed by the current cost to a user of that scenario and the cost in the tiered system.

"Light" User Pattern

A "light" user varies between someone who uses the Internet daily for email and little else, to someone who does not use the Internet much at all during a month's time frame. For the purposes of this scenario I will select the following characteristics of a "light" user:
  • Checks email at least once daily including attachments (~ 1MB per day)
  • Browses the web four times a week for 1 hour each time (10 - 50MB depending on the sites)
  • Gets OS updates once a month automatically (50 - 400MB)
  • Very infrequently downloads music or watches video online (5 - 30MB)
Given the above, a "light" user may use approximately 658 MB per month. An existing RoadRunner Lite subscriber pays $15/month. In the new tier, the same "light" user could subscribe to the $15/month tier and pay the same.

The difference between existing and proposed is the new system would penalize the user if he or she managed to use twice as much data in one month at a minimum overage fee of $2 or 13% of the cost of the plan.

"Moderate" User Pattern

A "moderate" user varies between someone who uses the Internet daily for email and web browsing to a person who also occasionally watches TV shows on Hulu.com or subscribes to Netflix and occasionally watches a movie on the computer instead of the DVD player. This is a general representation of your modern-day networked person who does not use the Internet excessively, but doesn't shy away from it either. For the purposes of this scenario I will select the following characteristics of a "moderate" user:
  • Checks email at least once daily (~ 1MB per day)
  • Accesses the web at least once daily and may spend up to three hours each time simply "surfing the web" including accessing sites such as the Yahoo! home page portal for news and entertainment (53 - 263MB)
  • Gets OS updates for their computer a few times a month. This may also include getting Antivirus software updates. (100 - 450MB)
  • Posts a small amount of personal pictures online with sites like Flickr.com and Picasa.com (60 MB)
  • Uses a form of social networking such as Twitter, Myspace.com or Facebook.com (20 - 100MB)
  • Occasionally downloads music from online retailers such as iTunes Music Store or Amazon.com MP3 Downloads (25 MB)
  • Occasionally plays online games on a computer, Xbox Live, Wii, or PS 3 (50 - 200MB)
  • Occasionally watches videos on sites like YouTube.com or Vimeo.com (100 - 300MB)
  • Occasionally shops online from sites like eBay.com, Amazon.com or Newegg.com (10 - 50MB)
Given the above, a "moderate" user may use approximately 2.3 GB per month. An existing RoadRunner Standard customer pays $35/month. In the new tier, the same "moderate" user could subscribe to the $30/month tier and save $5/month.

The difference between existing and proposed is the new system would penalize the user if he or she managed to use five times as much data in one month at a minimum overage fee of $1 or 3% the cost of the plan.

"Heavy" User Pattern

A "heavy" user varies between someone who exhibits the behaviors of a "moderate" user and also exhibits several of the following behaviors:
  • Spends more than three hours a day each week online (+300MB)
  • Downloads a large amount of music and/or movies from iTunes Music Store or Amazon.com MP3 Downloads (+575MB)
  • Downloads video game demos for the computer or gaming consoles (+2 to 10GB)
  • Uses Internet telephony such as Vonage or Skype with some regularity (+100MB / hr)
  • Uses Internet video chat with a web camera (+300MB / hr)
  • Watches three or more streaming movies per month through video services such as Netflix (+18GB)
  • Regularly watches TV on sites such as Hulu.com or abc.com (+500MB / hr)
  • Watches and/or uploads videos regularly from sites such as YouTube.com or Vimeo.com (+600MB)
  • Does a lot of online shopping at sites such as eBay.com, Amazon.com and Newegg.com (+100MB)
  • Regularly plays games online using a computer or a gaming console (+100MB / hr)
  • Uploads large amounts of photos to sites like Flickr.com, Picasa.com, Facebook.com or MySpace.com (+3GB)
  • Frequently spends time on social networking sites such as Twitter.com, Facebook.com, or Myspace.com (+300MB)
  • Listens to streaming Internet radio from such sites as Last.fm and Pandora.com (+50MB / hr)
Given the above, a "heavy" user may use approximately 75 GB per month. An existing RoadRunner Turbo customer pays $45/month. In the new tier, the same "heavy" user could subscribe to the $75/month tier and pay an additional $30/month.

Additionally in the new system the user would be penalized if he or she managed to use an additional 25 GB in one month at a minimum overage fee of $1 or 1% the cost of the plan. The new plan also provides slightly slower speeds -- 10 Mbps/1 Mbps vs. 15 Mbps/2 Mbps.

Other Considerations

While the above scenarios do indeed punish heavy users as Time Warner aims, there are several factors that may significantly play into making the "light" and "moderate" users use much more data per month possibly incurring overage fees or requiring a higher, more expensive tier:
  1. These are conservative estimates based on my own experience. While I'm a heavy user, my daily average usage currently is around 2 GB. On "light" days I still manage to use about 500 MB of data just checking email and using Facebook. Also the sites you visit will make a big difference on how much "surfing" will cost in terms of data. Sites like YouTube and Flickr.com, even without watching any videos or loading full-sized images, are implicitly "heavy" sites and will use far more data that a text-only site with few or no images. Quick indicator: moving or dynamic pages are "heavy", static and sometimes boring-looking pages are "light".
  2. These numbers don't factor in malware and viruses. If your computer manages to contract a virus or get malware on it that malicious software will most likely send and receive data constantly without your knowledge and artificially inflate your data usage incurring overage fees or requiring you to move to a higher tier.
  3. These numbers don't factor in spam and other unwanted junk mail. Although a much more slight factor, unwanted e-mail is still downloaded to your computer when you check your e-mail and that download uses up part of your allotment.
  4. Time Warner expects Internet usage to grow at least 40% each year**. This means the "light" user above may use 921 MB next year; the "moderate" user may use 3.2 GB next year; and the "heavy" user may use 105 GB next year.
  5. Unsecured wireless home networks may be used by unscrupulous "war-drivers" who drive (or walk) around and use these networks as their Internet access on your dime. War-driving's legality is not entirely clear, but the financial impact on you if you stumble into an unscrupulous war-driver is clear.
  6. The maximum overage fee is $75 if you really exceed your cap. This means your damages are limited, but it also means you may be paying up to three times as much as you do now for "unlimited" service.
** - per Landel Hobbs in the above-quoted statement

As you can see, there are many factors that may adversely affect the conservative numbers presented here. The caps as stated place everyone in a tight-fitting shirt that will shrink when it goes through the wash and won't fit next year.

Data caps in general create a disincentive to use the Internet for fear of reaching or exceeding the cap an incurring overage fees. No matter how high the cap is, given time technology will rise to exceed it under normal circumstances.

Hopefully this article provides some concrete examples of how the tiers will work and who will be most impacted. The best way to get an accurate feel for how much data you or your household uses is to monitor the so-called "gas gauge" Time Warner will be enabling later this summer.

You will have two months to determine how much data you download and one additional month after the caps go into effect where you will be warned about any overages but not charged until the following month if your usage remains the same.

It's your choice - raise your voice or accept your limits.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Eric Massa Town Hall Meeting Full of Surprises

Last night I attended a Town Hall style meeting with New York's 29th congressional district representative Eric J. J. Massa held in Pittsford, NY. It appears that these town halls are somewhat regular and a place for constituents to air their complaints to Washington via their conduit Mr. Massa. Tonight was no exception.

There were probably around 40 to 50 people in attendance and many topics of discussion were raised including the future of Medicaid and concerns about the shootings in Binghamton earlier in the week.

Then a student (presumably from RIT) broke the ice with regard to Time Warner's proposed usage caps. This got the room buzzing. Eric Massa re-iterated his stance that he is doing and will continue to do everything in his power to prevent the caps from being put in place. He feels it will hamper the area's economy in a time when the last thing we need is to slow down an already stagnant economy.

I stepped out for a moment to answer a phone call and 30 seconds after I returned three representatives of Time Warner Cable stood up and identified themselves. One representative (shown on the right in my friend Randy's blog post) attempted feebly to assuage the sudden air of rage that seemed to fill the vast auditorium by announcing that very recently they have released an updated statement with "improved" tiers after listening to customer feedback.

Two gentlemen near the front center were practically ready to jump out of their chairs and throttle this Time Warner executive and I don't blame them. Mr. Massa did what any diplomat would do and attempted to difuse the situation by volunteering to set up an open discussion with Time Warner and all stakeholders including Frontier and the people of Rochester. I'm looking forward to that meeting with great anticipation.

The elderly gentleman in front of me turned around at one point and stated he was surprised at the turn in conversation -- he didn't expect the Time Warner issue to come up at all much less be a big deal.

The best part however was even face to face with the Time Warner exec, Eric Massa stood tall and strong and firmly stated that he would bring down the full power of 100+ members of Congress to prevent Time Warner from implementing these caps unless they can address the concerns of himself and all his constituents to his and our satisfaction.

Well done Mr. Massa. Well done!

Abuse version 2.0

Yesterday evening Time Warner released a second statement regarding their bandwidth tiers and pricing. Time Warner claims in it,
We’ve heard the passionate feedback and we’ve taken action to address our customers’ concerns.
Oh goody! They've gotten rid of the caps (or at the very least significantly increased them) right?
Not exactly. Here's the breakdown of the "new and improved" tiers:
  • A new "lighter Internet user" tier will exist providing 1 GB per month at speeds of 768 KB up/128 KB down for $15 per month.
    Overage charges will be $2 per GB per month.
  • Bandwidth tier sizes are increasing to 10, 20, 40 and 60 GB for Road Runner Lite, Basic, Standard and Turbo packages, respectively.
    Package prices will remain the same.
    Overage charges will be $1 per GB per month.
  • A new 100 GB Road Runner Turbo package has been added for $75 per month at speeds of 10 MB/1 MB (very notably slower than RR Turbo now but $20 more expensive). Overage charges will be $1 per GB per month.
  • Overage charges will be capped at $75 per month.
    That means that for $150 per month customers could have virtually unlimited usage at Turbo speeds.
  • Trials will begin in Rochester, N.Y., and Greensboro, N.C., in August.
  • DOCSIS 3.0 will be launched sometime in the future [editorial: 2090?] with a 50/5 MB speed tier for $99 per month [editorial: with an unknown cap].
If you were like me you laughed, you cried, and you hurled. Then after you finished watching Wayne's World you read this memo and your jaw hit the floor.

I'm not exactly sure who Time Warner has been listening to because I'm quite sure I didn't hear anyone, anywhere say, "I wish there was a low-end tier with next to no usage and double the overage fee for slower than DSL speeds." Or maybe the execs over there have some really powerful drugs.

Time Warner Doesn't Get It

They just keep missing the point. People don't want usage caps....PERIOD. We're not shouting up and down about how slow Road Runner is and how we need DOCSIS 3.0 for 50Mbps download speed. (Well, ok some people are, but they're a very small minority at the moment - DOCSIS 3.0 is just good business sense for them no matter what.)

Laughingly Time Warner refers to two studies Conducted by Nemertes Research about the pending so-called 'exaflood' wherein the demand for Internet services exceeds capacity and people start experiencing "Internet brownouts" where speed unexplicably is reduced at times.

The first study conducted in 2007 stated in its conclusion,
We conclude that the evidence is good that demand for Internet and IP services is increasing exponentially, while access investment is proceeding linearly.
[...]
The next Google, YouTube, or Amazon might not arise not because of a lack of demand, but due to an inability to fulfill that demand. Rather like osteoporosis, the underinvestment in infrastructure will painlessly and invisibly leach competitiveness out of the economy.
[...]
There is, however, another gap that is within scope for us, as researchers, to address, and that is the data gap. We have several times noted that the best available data (chiefly that from CAIDA and MINTS) is exceedingly limited, due to the unwillingness of service providers to share details on their infrastructures and capacities.
What I take from that study is that it says our infrastructure is limiting our access and by doing so having an adverse affect on the ability for online businesses to thrive and move forward.

Additionally it says that companies like Time Warner are stingy with their data and this report could be highly flawed due to "exceedingly limited" data.

A second study the following year repeated the same message: capacity (i.e. bandwidth) is not keeping pace with demand and that needs to change for Internet businesses to be viable.

There have been accusations that Nemertes is simply astroturfing for the industry, but whether they are or aren't, it seems to me their warnings are going unheeded by TWC. Indeed, TWC is attempting to address the "problem" by limiting usage instead of building out infrastructure.

Time Warner hasn't done themselves any favor with this latest memo. I know it's simply renewed my efforts to get the word out and bring people's attention to the fact that not only are these caps ridiculous but that TWC has seen fit to move the date up to August from the original planned start date in September...but just for Rochester and Greensboro. That's probably because we're simply the loudest two test sites and they want to silence us first by capping our usage and making it unfeasible to continue fighting online.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ars Technica breaks down the cost per GB of TW caps

Ars Technica does a fairly good job of breaking down the TWC pricing costs per GB with the proposed caps. Unfortunately the article author and the editor of the trade publication DSL Prime are woefully ambivilant to the concept of capping altogether and seem to buy into the spiel that the Internet can't grow anymore without caps. Nevermind the fact that the lack of caps is what has spurred the incredible growth over the past 10 years.

I'm going to try one more stab at why usage caps don't address the perceived bandwidth problem. This time we'll compare Internet access to time shares.

Internet service providers have a fixed amount of bandwidth available to them to resell to customers. Let's say for the sake of this example they have 100Mbps connection to the Internet.

In a time share scenario, the ISP could divvy up that 100Mbps however they wanted but once they run out of bandwidth, they can't sell anymore. Perhaps at time share-style ISP would sell 10 customers 10Mbps connections and that's it.

Time Warner and all modern ISPs realize that's an inefficient use of the available bandwidth because not everyone uses their 10Mbps connection all the time leaving a lot of "empty" bandwidth. So instead, the ISPs sell 100 people 10Mbps expecting that not everyone will be online using their full bandwidth at the same time. When that happens however, everyone's connection slows to a crawl because they can each only get at most 1Mbps.

The usage caps do not change this scenario in terms of how much bandwidth is available or sold. Instead it creates a disincentive for you to use your full bandwidth because you have a limit on the amount of data you can download. If you use your full bandwidth frequently you'll exceed your limit and pay overage fees.

This is like the time share you've purchased (2 weeks in August in the Florida Keys) and one week into your stay the owner calls you up and tells you to be out by 5pm or he'll charge you an additional fee for every night you stay. Most people would find this behavior outrageous since you've already paid for then entire two weeks, but your usage of the 2 week access time is capped to only 1 week.

In this way, ISPs essentially scare people into not using their Internet connection as frequently so as to help avoid the network slow-downs that occur when everyone is using it.

Clearly this method of selling bandwidth doesn't guarantee any particular performance for your money and with the caps may actually punish you for using your full bandwidth.

Additionally in the case of Time Warner one of their talking points is the promise to bring even higher speeds than they have now. However, higher speeds just means you can reach your cap faster so that's not much for "helping people save money".