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.

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