Sunday, April 19, 2009

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. I request that he disclose who pays him. Darby Consultants has been the mouthpiece for Cable companies and telecommunications firms since 1988, testifying in anti-consumer, pro-telecom positions before congress multiple times. In addition, he used to be VP of Telecommunications Investment Banking Group to Lehmann Brothers (in other words he's the kind of economist that got that company and other investment firms into big trouble by following how they did "accounting" and "math".). Now his is a paid gun for the telecom firms, and their main mouthpiece at congressionaly hearings. You wouldn't know that based on the name of his Not For Profit. Interesting how it purports to represent the consumer.

  2. Man, I should really spellcheck better before I post. Congressional hearings, not Congressionaly, and He is not His is.